Let's get something straight: Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson is, despite having appeared in several films, not what many would consider a powerhouse actor. He is, however, smart enough to surround himself with people who are, and in the new film 'Freelancers' he's surrounded himself with two actors that have three Academy Awards between them: Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker. If anything, one could say that Jackson has a good head for business – or at least knows what performers he needs to be seen with in order to further legitimize his efforts on screen. Being able to attract talent like De Niro, Whitaker, and even Dana Delaney is admirable, but a film can have all sorts of flair and actor bragging rights, and if the script doesn't work, the end result is just a whole lot of questions regarding said talent's choice in roles.
Questioning why De Niro and Whitaker would appear in this anemic 'Training Day' by way of 'The Departed' crooked cop tale is akin to wondering why Tommy Lee Jones is in a Japanese canned coffee commercial: It likely helped pay for a new swimming pool, a new car, or they just didn't have anything else going on that week. Financial motives aside, 'Freelancers' offers De Niro and Whitaker a chance to take on some shady roles and chew the scenery a bit, sometimes while appearing in lengthy montages of debauchery where scantily clad women, guns, and money figure prominently – not unlike the kinds of music videos Jackson has made in the past.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that 'Freelancers' is helmed by frequent 50 Cent music video director, Jessy Terrero. Directing from the screenplay by first-time feature film writer L. Philippe Casseus. Together they aim to tell the tale of a young NYPD cop who goes by the name Malo (Jackson) and his two former drug-slinging street thug friends, AD (Malcolm Goodwin) and Lucas (Ryan O'Nan), after they are somehow set onto a path of redemption by a woman from their past, Lydia Vecchio (Dana Delany).
'Freelancers' is anything but subtle, and a character study it most certainly is not. Casseus' script is unrelenting in its exposition; characters sit around bars and point out persons of interest, detailing their name, occupation and practically their entire family history, rather than engage in dialogue with them. Within minutes of being introduced to Malo and his buddies, Casseus has spelled out their journey from wannabe drug dealers to semi-reluctant rookie cops. Most of this is told to a childhood acquaintance, Cyn (Anabelle Acosta) – with whom Malo has an on again, off again romantic relationship. Apparently, Malo is conflicted about his feelings for Cyn because her older brother Angie (Jeff Chase) got Malo, AD and Lucas busted on a drug charge – somehow making cops out of them in the process. (Bet he didn't see that one coming.)
Malo is immediately taken under the wing of Captain Vic Sarcone (Robert De Niro), who wastes little time in spelling it out that his unit is corrupt and since Malo's father (played in a brief flashback by Andre Royo, or Bubbles from 'The Wire') was a part of the group – until he was suspiciously killed in the line of duty – Malo is pretty much a shoe-in for membership. Malo being Malo (or 50 Cent, rather) takes this all in stride, as though the idea of being a corrupt cop was pretty much a given, and is immediately partnered up with Sarcone's no. 2: the strung out, drug-addled LaRue (Forest Whitaker). Meanwhile, AD begins his training under the tutelage of the very aptly named actor Robert Wisdom – who after playing Howard "Bunny" Colvin on 'The Wire' has been sentenced to a lifetime of roles as a street-weary, sage-like law enforcement officer who believes the police can play a more integral part in their community than simply cracking skulls and putting handcuffs on potentially violent young men. The increasingly hapless Lucas, on the other hand, is being trained by yet another archetypal, Hollywoodized racist cop, played by Matt Gerald.
At one point in the film, all three units converge on a standoff in a mini-mart parking lot where three singular approaches to handling the situation are put on display. Unbeknownst to the filmmaker and screenwriter, this is potentially the most important scene in the film, the point at which all three men find themselves on paths to salvation or destruction by means of their so-called mentors' approach to stopping a homicide before it can happen. Sadly, 'Freelancers' isn't interested in digging deeper into what might be perceived as intelligent social commentary, so the film eschews such matters in favor of detailing how corrupt, ignorant, or naïve each rookie's training officer is. Tragically, however, even that line of thinking could have been something of interest, if 'Freelancers' was able to better craft a sense of drama or conflict around these relationships.
Instead, the film turns its attention to an overly convoluted plot that shifts between Malo's ambitions to avenge his father's death, while simultaneously taking over Sarcone's seat in the New York drug trade. These scenes of cop-related criminality are interspersed with romantic interludes in which a young (despite the double androgyny of the actress and character's names, female) bartender named Joey (Beau Garrett) snorts narcotics off 50 Cent's abs. Cyn pops up here and again, reminding viewers that Malo has a soft spot, but, just like the film, he's not quite ready for that kind of commitment.
'Freelancers' ultimately becomes a simple pot-boiler of a thriller that, as mentioned above, has aspirations of equating itself with 'Training Day' and perhaps even fancies a comparison with 'The Departed.' Beyond the "it can't be him" implausibility of seeing De Niro and Whitaker in this film, the two wind up doing the majority of the heavy, dramatic lifting – which doesn't amount to much more than making verbal threats and, in Whitaker's case, maintaining a facial expression that asks: "how much longer until my heart explodes?" Somehow, the two phone in both of their performances, and still manage to deliver characters more convincing than 50 Cent's ever-smiling, morally conflicted cop.
Despite the film' mostly inane proceedings, Terrero should be commended for playing 'Freelancers' straight, and not attempting to adorn it with unnecessary flash in the form of heavy filters or wild, shifting camera angles and the frenetic editing that so often accompanies films lacking true substance. Then again, considering the film's flat, rudimentary narrative, perhaps an effort to spice things up is just what the doctor ordered. As it stands, the only thing this film leaves the viewer with is the question of how so many disparate pieces could come together for such an unremarkable product.
'Freelancers' is presented in a 1080p MPEG-4 transfer, which displays, in remarkable fashion, nearly every fine detail present in scene after scene. Facial features particularly stand out, as the cinematographer did not shy away from capturing every aspect of each actor's face. Here, fine lines, pores and poorly glued on scar tissue stand out with distinct clarity that still maintains a sense of warmth and liveliness of an older film.
Colors are rich and vibrant throughout; from the golden atmospheric hues of sunsets and late afternoons to the inky blackness of late night New York, the 'Freelancers' Blu-ray transfer reproduces them all in rather stunning fashion. Grain and noise are non-existent, and the end result is a transfer that many would long to see on a film of better quality.
If there were a fault to be found, it's that the white levels are often blown out – whether this is a stylistic choice between the director and cinematographer is unclear, but it can lead to an intense, reflective sheen on the actor's foreheads and often wipes out backgrounds in certain daytime shots. All in all, though, 'Freelancers' looks very good and is consistent throughout.
Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 'Freelancers' has the kind of soundtrack that expectedly takes subwoofers to their limit. Selections from the soundtrack have arguably never sounded better, and come through with distinct vocals and deep, thumping bass that will almost certainly have your neighbors reaching for their broomsticks.
Sound effects benefit from the master audio transfer as well. Gunshots ring out, tires squeal and collisions boom effectively in the front and rear channels. Surround sound consistently and accurately captures the din of a noisy bar as well as the ambient environmental noise of the city (New Orleans doubling here for New York City).
While the audio displays the soundtrack and sound effects of the film in stunning clarity, there are moments when dialogue comes through a little muddled, or difficult to understand. This could be because the soundtrack is rather inconsistent between the two – preferring to blast the musical selections while dialing back the more talkative moments. As a result, this leaves the viewer scrambling for the remote to either turn the volume down during a montage, or turn it back up again any time Curtis Jackson starts talking.
'Freelancers' is a typical, paint-by-numbers crime thriller that lacks the requisite levels of intrigue and ambiguity of more memorable offerings in the genre. For connoisseurs of unintentionally bad cinema, it may be worth a quick viewing, but the film holds little value beyond that. Contemporary crime dramas often like to see their main character toe the line between hero and villain. Here 'Freelancers' attempts to play that game in reverse, but ends up with a decidedly uneven, out-of-left-field climax that confounds despite the overly expository nature of the screenplay.
Eleven days before this Blu-ray reaches store shelves, 'Freelancers' will have undergone a small theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles. Despite a few showings on the silver screen, it's hard to consider this film anything more than a direct-to-video mishap.