Empire  (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Empire is kind of an update of Carlito's Way, asking again whether it is ever possible for hardened criminals to escape the life. John Leguizamo plays a smart drug-dealing tough from the South Bronx whose pretty college student girlfriend is pregnant. He won't have his baby born as the child of a violent lowlife scumbag, so he seeks to "go legit". His drug dealing associates invoke the cinema gangster rule which says that movie criminals may never leave the criminal life. The dirtbag friends of movie criminals can't afford to have them alive unless they have a piece of the action. Otherwise, there's no reason for them not to talk to the feds. At least that is the official movie understanding.

Leguizamo has to negotiate his way out. He agrees to provide x amount of dollars to La Columbiana, the head honcho of the local drug cartel, in return for his freedom. Unfortunately, the only way he can get that kind of money in such a short time is by dealing with people even more disreputable, immoral and ruthless than drug dealers. I am referring, of course, to investment bankers. Leguizamo is convinced that an Upper East Side hot-shot can deliver a mammoth profit if given a large amount of illegal and untraceable money. Then Leguizamo is convinced that he can be a hot-shot himself, and can even fit in with the SoHo crowd.


the film has the one ingredient that every film truly needs - a completely gratuitous topless lesbian bath scene.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen letterboxed 2.35:1.

  • in English or Spanish

  • "making of"

  • 30 minutes of deleted scenes

  • full-length commentary

Ultimately, he finds that there was much more honor among the drug traffickers that he used to deal with.

Despite the intriguing premise of mixing unlimited amounts of drug money with unlimited insider trading, combined with the comic and dramatic potential of placing the lowlifes and the Ivy League swells in partnership, this film isn't that good. It does have a lot of good elements, however. John Leguizamo is both funny and poignant in the lead, bringing a complex character to life as an extension of his own "sure I'm tough, but I'm a good guy" persona. The musical score is an eclectic Salsa/rap mix. Unfortunately, too much running time is occupied by trash talk and gunfire and voice-over narration.

Reviews were mixed. A few critics found it excellent, while a few others thought it was deplorable. I thought it was a watchable genre film that could have been great with a slight change in the focus of the storyline.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2.5/4,  Entertainment Weekly B+ (an exception - most critics were in the C/C+ range), filmcritic.com 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it 6.3/10, Yahoo voters agree, 3.2/5
  • Box Office Mojo: It did pretty well in limited distribution. It grossed $17 million despite never reaching 1000 theaters. It opened amazingly - in the number 4 spot its first weekend, despite being in 800 theaters, competing against other films which were on on 2000-3500 screens.
  • Cinema Score's exit polls were moderately positive (C+ to B) except for young girls.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C. People who like Carlito's Way and Goodfellas should also like this as an inferior but still watchable clone of those classics. Unfortunately, those same people will also find this movie to be very familiar in both style and substance.

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