"It sucks to be disenfranchised" seems to be the point of this tale wherein a young black man, Anthony (Larenz Tate), grows up in a happy-go-lucky sort of way, then volunteers for the Vietnam War and returns to find living a regular life to be a tall order. So, he does what any protagonist in need of a plot point would do: He robs a bank.
Under the mistaken impression that this was some sort of "action" movie in which the characters spend a significant amount of screen time shooting at people and driving cars in a reckless manner, I found myself nodding off while watching young Anthony grow up to realize that the world is a real cesspool and that being patriotic frequently comes around to bite you right in the ass.
This movie is divided into three specific parts, all of which are rip-offs of other films. The first part is the middle-class kid growing up scenario wherein Anthony runs numbers for Kirby (Keith David) and learns that making money can be fun. He also chats with his friends, José (Freddy Rodriguez) and Skip (Chris Tucker), about life. Can you say: "Goodfellas?" Then there's the Vietnam section, wherein Anthony meets the nutty Cleon (Bokeem Woodbine) working as a Marine for a special recon outfit. Can you say: "Platoon?" Then there's the post-Vietnam story wherein Anthony decides to rob the bank because he can't support his honey, Juanita (Rose Jackson), and his baby. Can you say: "Dog Day Afternoon?"
The film's title, "Dead Presidents," refers to those old guys whose faces are on our currency. If the Hughes brothers really wanted to make a statement about how the importance of money has corrupted the moral fiber of our country, they might have tried taking the budget for their movie and seeing if Ralph Reed would have sodomized a few underaged farm animals on film in exchange for the quick cash. Sure, the symbolism would have been a little less subtle, but imagine how much more interesting it would have been.
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