July 2001
Off the Hook

Reviewed by Wilson Morales

Off the Hook

Based on a True Story

Directed By:Adam Watstein
Written By:Adam Watstein
Produced By:Adam Watstein, Jennifer Lyne, and Walter Velasquez
Music By:Lord Finese
Cast:Walter Velasquez, Jamal Mackey, Lvee Anduze, Pamela Johnson, Anthony Young

In a few areas, some people look for ways out of the neighborhood. Either they educate themselves and go to college, or they get a job and move out. For others, neither option may be quickly available and they have to rely on sheer talent. Rap music has been known to get a few “cats” out of the neighborhood as well known rappers have proclaimed. It is never an easy process. Along the way, sacrifices had to be made to accomplish this task. In recent times, there have been a number of true-life stories brought to the screen. The difference between those films and “Off the Hook” is that the latter features the individual whose life is being displayed.

“Off the Hook” is not about racism, drugs, violence or even rap music. It’s the true story of two friends who live in the inner city trying to handle the conflicting demands of friendship, responsibility and ambition. Walter Velasquez and Lorenzo Lewis are young men living in the South Bronx. They have a rap group and are about to cut their first album. Like Felix and Oscar, Walter and Lorenzo are different in many ways. Walter attends college and coaches children in baseball in Manhattan, while Lorenzo is shiftless, doesn’t work and hangs out with local thugs. Walter is always curious as to how Lorenzo supports himself. His questions are answered when Lorenzo is caught selling drugs and is sent to jail. While making music with Lorenzo, Walter is also dating his sister Narine. When she becomes pregnant, Walter’s future is put on hold as he thinks about his priorities. As his friends urge him to stay away from Lorenzo, Walter upholds his loyalty to his friend. When Lorenzo gets out of jail, Walter tries to help him give up his old habits, but learns it’s no easy task. With a baby on the way, trying to stay out of trouble, and trying to get their music off the ground, Walter and Lorenzo find their struggles aren’t over.

What makes this story compelling is that Walter is playing himself. To be able to relive the past and have someone tell it on screen is amazing. There are no special effects, and no Hollywood endings. What you see is what you get. Watstein must be credited for taking a straightforward, realistic portrait of friendship and transferring it to the screen so that people are aware that nothing is easy in life. In order to succeed in accomplishing one’s goals, one has to make decisions that may not be easy. From “Hoop Dreams” to “Off the Hook”, we have a realistic portrait of life that Hollywood doesn’t seem to make right.


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