Holiday 99:Light It Up-
Did it make a Spark?

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By Shelby J. Jones
A Film From Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation  
Written and Directed by: Craig Bolotin
Produced by: Tracey E. Edmonds & Babyface
Co-Producer: Helena Echegoyen
Cast: Usher Raymond, Forest Whitaker, Vanessa L. Williams, Glen Turman, Rosario Dawson, Robert Ri'chard, Clifton Collins, Jr., Fredro Starr, Sara Gilbert

Light It Up
- no, it's not about firing up a cigarette, stogie or other flammables. Quite frankly, I still don't get the title. Light It Up is the new star vehicle for teenage singing sensation Usher Raymond. Hollywood has always provided talented musicians with access to the silver screen - Elvis, Sinatra, Vanessa, Whitney, hell, even DMX and Nas jumped on the screen this year. I am making a plea for them to stop - or at least slow it down a bit. I enjoyed Belly with Nas and DMX and of course I cannot discount the enormous film talent bestowed upon us by Ice Cube, Vanessa Williams, LL Cool J and others who have made that transition. My gripe is that a lot of trained actors are being left in the dust because film executives too often make casting choices based on a proven artists track record, in this case, from album sales. What if Big Daddy Kane or Kwame had been cast in a role that Wesley Snipes was up for? Usher may be able to sway the women but watching him for almost two hours on screen was tough. I am certain the filmmakers anticipated young adult male fans like myself, so they installed a preventive measure - they added Vanessa Williams - voila, better film immediately.


Light It Up is a story about a group of Queens (New York) high school students that hold a policeman hostage after a boiler effect altercation between the principal, a well-loved teacher and the cop. The teacher is suddenly suspended from the school. Reminiscent of
Breakfast Club (NY hood style that is), the filmmakers cast in the role of the loved schoolteacher none other than the rebel loser teenager from The Breakfast Club, Judd Nelson. One good thing about this film is the students are not gang-bangin thugs (except for one) but rather they want better books, better school maintenance and the best teachers to be at their school. They want a better life for their school days. Of course downtown has something to say about that and whether or not they release their hostage, Forest Whitaker, is more than prevalent. When the film first started, I thought, "oh my God," another urban high school flick with minorities being portrayed as thugs and hoods rather than school children. Much to my surprise, these students were at least positive.


Usher Raymond drives the women crazy on CD, on the stage and on video but on the silver screen, I didn't buy his performance. It seemed like he was working too hard to accomplish his mission as the lead. To be fair, his portrayal was not as bad some 50,000 other performances I have seen but this was not his best. Much credit to the casting folks for giving roles to Forest Whitaker and Vanessa L. Williams who both performed well. Whitaker plays the NYPD cop who is being held by Usher and his crew. Vanessa is the negotiator for NYPD and her tense character has to try and prevent the NYPD from getting medieval on the students. Usher is backed up by Rosario Dawson (cutie from He Got Game fellas), Robert Ri'chard, Clifton Collins, Jr., Fredro Starr and Sara Gilbert.


Light It Up will do well with teenage audiences and it should. But with young adult audience and cinema savvy moviegoers, this film won't be seen until it hits the video store or DVD. I am certain that the filmmakers assumed this when they had the high concept, wrote the story and chose the cast. So it may be a winner in their eyes. I will say this - if The Best Man is sold out, see this, you might enjoy it. If you can't see the film, YAB-YUM records did a fine job with the soundtrack - N Sync, DMX, Master P featuring The No Limit All Stars, Ja Rule, 112, OutKast featuring Slimm Cutta-Calhoun, Jack Herrera, Jon B., Amil & Solé, AZ & Beanie Sigel, Blaze and Firestarr (Fredro Starr), BEVERLY, and Shya. When its all said and done, Light It Up didn't light it up but it did provide a tiny spark.


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