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Film

Let this one expire quickly

Never Die Alone starts out with its detestable main character in a coffin. At least he doesn't have to watch the rest of the movie.

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published March 25, 2004

  photo
[Photo: Twentieth Century Fox]
In Never Die Alone, King David (DMX) narrates the events leading up to his death.
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It's surprising Hollywood waited so long to award DMX his first solo lead role, since his antihero shtick has proved both enormously popular and profitable. The 33-year-old hard-core rapper and actor (born Earl Simmons) straddles the karmic fence in song and film, equally content playing sinner and saint - though he's usually the former.

DMX's brilliant bark booms and rasps in perfect chorus; it's amazing how a voice that sounds like the result of gargling broken glass can be so powerful and resonant.

His is an extraordinary voice, and in Never Die Alone, we hear way, way too much of it.

The film opens with DMX's character, King David - the most obvious conceit of a weak Shakespearean tragedy metaphor - lying in a coffin. The dead drug dealer begins to narrate the events that led to his passing, and DMX's excruciatingly wooden delivery of James Gibson's English-as-a-sixth-language lines make it crystal clear this will be no American Beauty.

Turns out it's not even American Psycho, though it's every bit as grisly.

There is so little plot, one hardly can itemize it here. Suffice it to say Gibson based the screenplay on a 1974 novel by Donald Goines, a career criminal and heroin addict. He was shot to death the year Never Die Alone was published, a killing rumored to be drug-related.

Never Die Alone actually was conceived as an art film and even premiered at the esteemed Sundance Film Festival, where many viewers walked out. Turns out the producing studio, Fox Searchlight, re-edited the film to try to make it a more mainstream urban action flick. That's the word from co-star Aisha Tyler, the hilarious and gorgeous actor and comedian from Talk Soup and Friends.

Tyler, who is left with only one scene in the final cut, talked about the changes after her standup set at Side Splitters comedy club last week in Tampa.

Note to studio executives: Have you actually watched this film? How do you have an action flick without a hero? King David isn't even an antihero; he's just a detestable psychopath.

This guy's favorite hobby is getting his girlfriends hooked on drugs, and when they get annoying, he adds battery acid to their fix.

But Gibson and director Ernest R. Dickerson give us flashbacks of King David acting smooth and sexy as he seduces the women whose lives he'll destroy with hardly a thought.

Then we get the virtual idolatry of King David by Paul (David Arquette), a frustrated writer who discovers audiocassette journals David recorded. The Princess Diana tapes were a lot more interesting.

Never Die Alone does have a few effective moments, but they never coalesce into a workable story. Dickerson - who somehow rendered both Damon Wayans and Adam Sandler unfunny in the 1996 debacle Bulletproof - has no ability to elicit a decent performance or provide the slightest nuance.

Viewers would be well-served to let King David die alone - in an empty theater.

Never Die Alone

Grade: D

Director: Ernest R. Dickerson

Cast: DMX, David Arquette, Michael Ealy, Clifton Powell, Reagan Preston-Gomez, Jennifer Sky, Drew Sidora, Aisha Tyler

Screenplay: James Gibson, based on the novel by Donald Goines

Rating: R; violence, profanity, sexuality, drug use

Running time: 88 min.

[Last modified March 24, 2004, 10:09:26]


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