Things I Learned Watching Cam'ron's Killa Season
Cam'ron portrait by Grant Siedlecki
In a way, seeing Killa Season just drove home what an unexpected treat ATL was: warm and funny and naturalistic, with fairly well-drawn characters and good performances, a rapper playing against type as a decent and hard-working blue-collar type, an unhurried but, um, let's say comprehensible storyline and subplots that had at least a little bit to do with the nominal main storyline, great camerawork and editing, and a general good-natured glow about it. I was pretty shocked to hear that there had been shooting deaths outside a couple of ATL screenings; there's not a damn thing in the movie that could construed, even loosely, as glorifying violence, but then I guess that's just what happens whenever any sort of cultural event brings together a bunch of low-income kids. Nobody's been killed at any of the screenings of Killa Season that just went down at Village East Cinemas, the only ten screenings the movie will ever get before it hits DVD. Everyone there got severely searched and wanded-down before going inside, and most of the small-ass crowd was made up of Dipset dorks like me who actually thought that maybe this thing might be at least a little bit good. Even though the movie's star and director Cam'ron was supposed to give a Q&A after the screening (he didn't show, of course), the theater was barely half-full, and that doesn't exactly say anything great about Cam's future prospects.
Of course, maybe everyone who stayed home just figured out what I should've known all along: Killa Season was never going to be any good, ever. Cam's appeal rests on his surreally warped eloquence and his matter-of-fact arrogance and his near-perfect ear for beats, and absolutely none of those things translates to the screen; all he has to offer is a goofily ignorant charisma, and even that is only good for a couple of decent punchlines. Killa Season is everything ATL isn't: gratuitously and ridiculously violent where ATL is calm and mostly believable, hateful where ATL is affectionate, utterly incomprehensible where ATL makes sense, totally half-assed where ATL is well-executed. It isn't a story so much as a series of loosely strung-together vignettes, and, like Infinite Jest or some shit, it ends at a totally arbitrary place right before what I guess would be the climax. There's no IMDB page to verify this, but it seems pretty likely that there's not one single professional actor in the whole damn thing. As Ryan Dombal says here, it's filmed all Dogme 95 style, with only natural light, wind-noise obscuring dialogue and characters often only visible in silhouette. Even by the abysmal standards of straight-to-video rap movies, it's unbelievably fucking bad; even Choices 2: The Set Up had, like, Tiny Lister in one scene. And Killa Season is two and a half hours long, which makes sitting through the whole thing a Sisyphean ordeal. Avoid this movie at all costs if you value your sanity. Here are some things I learned watching Killa Season:
• Cam's character is named Flea, but it doesn't seem to be a Red Hot Chili Peppers reference. Juelz Santana, who somehow gets second billing even though he's barely in the thing and only kind of stands around in a couple of scenes, plays a character named Bandana. Hell Rell plays a character named Hell Rell. In the opening montage, Cam introduces another character as "the hood internet," and I'm pretty sure we never see him again.
• Also in the opening montage, Cam breaks a bottle over a hater's head and then says "no homo" about fifteen times before pissing on him.
• The best part of the movie is the old stock footage of Cam playing basketball in high school, complete with cheesed-out dubbed-in sportscaster voices (one guy yelling "Giles!" over and over). Cam also helpfully points out Mase in the same footage, and we get to watch him cry after Cam misses a game-winning shot (sportscaster: "He missed it! [long pause] I can't believe it! [long pause] I can't believe he missed it!"). In a scene that supposedly takes place the next day, Cam deals weed to security guards and teachers at his high school, and he appears to have aged fourteen years overnight. Needless to say, he looks exactly the same when the narrative jumps forward to 2006.
• You know Cam's African friend is African because he wears a giant white dashiki.
• In one fucking disgusting and gratuitous scene, we learn that Italian guys love chopping up dead bodies. In another, we get to see the dark side of Maria Full of Grace when two Dominican girls working as drug mules shit out plastic baggies full of coke that they swallowed. I almost puked, for real. (Both scenes are played for laughs.)
• When narrator Cam says "My fur game was at an all-time high," we get a series of shots of him walking into a jewelry store with different-colored fur coats, which, admittedly, is pretty awesome.
• For a couple of months after college, I was a furniture salesman at a ghetto-ass East Baltimore discount furniture store, the sort of place that advertises $5 mattresses and accepts Independence Cards and does brisk business on the first of the month. One of the items we offered was the coffee table in Hell Rell's apartment, which I thought was pretty funny.
• Cam's one big acting challenge comes when his niece is killed outside a Papa John's, and he has to react, which he does by making funny faces. Later on, we learn that Cam is a good person because he doesn't kill his enemy's young daughter when he finds her outside the same pizza place; he just spits on her face instead.
• The engine of plot moves something like this: Juelz says, "They trying to take over the block," and the camera cuts to some guys saying, "Yo, let's take over the block." Cam handles this problem by killing some guy in (seriously) a bicycle-by shooting.
• If his mother hadn't told him not to, Cam would've worn all of his jewelry to his grandfather's funeral. Also, in the movie's only musical interlude, Cam delivers his grandfather's eulogy in rap form, and I don't think the song even mentions his grandfather.
• Funkmaster Flex shows up in a cameo as a chop-shop owner who sells Cam a Lamborghini, and he manages to sneak in a Benzino dis. Also, I was disappointed to learn that Cam's Lamborghini has regular doors, not gull-wing doors.
• At one point, voiceover-Cam seems to be wrapping things up: "Yup, that's my life in Harlem. The ups, the downs, the highs, the lows." The movie then goes on for another hour.
• Like Big Boi in ATL, the characters in Killa Season openly discuss plans to deal drugs and murder people over the damn phone. They must not watch The Wire.
• All corner stores pretty much look the same, but I'm pretty sure the one scene that was supposed to take place in Baltimore was not filmed there.
• Best acting job: the guy who gets stuffed into the trunk of a car along with a box of rats: "Aaah! Aaah! Get these shits off me, B! Aaaah!"
• In the movie, Cam charters a jet and flies his entire crew to a Southern strip club. This definitely seems like it was an excuse for the real-life Cam to charter a jet and fly his entire crew to a Southern strip club.
• Also, when Cam discovers that an old friend of his has become a crackhead, he pulls strings to save her and a get her back into school, which leads to the following exchange. Girl: "I got a 3.5!" Cam: "What's that, a BMW?"
• During the obligatory snitching scene, someone in the theater yelled "Stop snitching!" at the screen. People really don't like snitches!
Voice review: Jon Caramanica on Cam'ron's Purple Haze