Tara at 300 feet.
Homeless Max (Isaiah Washington) and his brother live in the basement of a tenement owned by slumlord Souilliez (Taurean Blacque) and run by the desperate Grady (Ice-T). Max’s only friend, aside from his brother, is a nice girl who lives upstairs – Nina (A.J. Johnson) – until he meets a friendly rat that he saves from a trap. This rat can understand him and hears the tale of a sad and lonely man who wants revenge on all those who have wronged him….
This is something of an interesting story of a mouse who pulls a thorn out of a lion’s paw, except the figurative mouse is a scared man who’s distinctly mouselike and the figurative lion is a literal mouse that’s still pretty lionlike. Because he’s a street poet, Max decides to name ‘Tara’ which is ‘a rat’ spelled backward. He did first think of naming the rat ‘Ben’, which is a none-to-clever way that the writer thought he could poke fun at the fact that the plot of his script is shamelessly lifted from Willard. Not that Willard is that great a film or anything, but Willard in the hood isn’t that much better really. Of course, considering how many ripoffs blatantly swipe from better work without even acknowledging it, maybe this is a better thing than usual.
No, it isn’t.
Still, much like Willard, everything starts out okay for for Max – or as okay as it ever is for a homeless man in an urban rat hole – as he has a place to squat that’s dry and warmish, a brother, and a female friend who lives upstairs. Everything goes to hell when a judge (Tami Roman) sentences Souilliez to spend a month in his most awful tenement, and he immediately begins improving it so that he feels safe. Because he is a thoroughly evil bastard he happily lets people die and even screws over his own employees who he’s gotten involved in crimes. He’s a lousy individual, and when he lets Max’s brother die of exposure, Max unleashes Tara and her horde of rat underlings. The rats begin to gnaw everyone in the building – as rats are wont to do – and that includes the people that Max would prefer to remain alive. This doesn’t go down so well.
The film does work though. The actors do a good job with fairly limited characters and this horror movie with a mostly-black cast doesn’t suck the way most of those mostly-black cast films tend to. No racism about it, the fact is that mostly-black films just don’t get much funding and there are probably fewer black wannabe actors than there are troupes of amateur white actors infesting the landscape. Still, the makers of this film got some people who could actually perform and it shows. There’s some real talent on display here. The strange thing about this film, though derivative, translates the Willard story to a ghetto setting very well. In fact, I kind of like this one.
I’m going to be kicked out of the critic’s club for liking a ripoff.