December 2002

Reviewed by Wilson Morales


Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Franc Reyes
Screenwriter: Franc Reyes
Producers: Daniel Bigel & Michael Mailer
Cast: John Leguizamo, Denise Richards, Peter Sarsgaard, Sonia Braga, Delilah Cotto, Isabella Rosellini,Fat Joe, and Anthony “Treach” Criss
Running Time: 95m

John Leguizamo in Universal's Empire
Victor (John Leguizamo) and Jack (Peter Sarsgaard) in Universal's Empire
Denise Richards in Universal's Empire
Treach in Universal's Empire
John Leguizamo in Universal's Empire

Making lots of money is always the big dream for those who don’t have it. Having intelligence is a form of achieving the goal, but what area the intelligence comes from is a different matter. Whether you come from a bad or good environment, how you make money, at least illegally, comes from the same. In Franc Reyes’s first feature film EMPIRE, he shows an unoriginal portrayal of how illegal money leads to a road of misery, but John Leguizamo’s captivating portrayal is enough to lead the film to past most of the cliche scenes we come to expect.

Victor Rosa (Leguizamo) is a wealthy man in his South Bronx neighborhood. The kids respect him and he even has admirers. He is also a big-time drug dealer. When not “working”, he looks for ways to lavish his girlfriend Carmen (Cotto) with gifts. While at college, Carmen’s schoolmate Trish (Richards) notices the latest gift from Victor and invites Carmen to bring her boyfriend to a party she’s throwing with her boyfriend. At first reluctant, Victor agrees to go to make Carmen. While looking at how beautiful the place is, Victor meets Jack, Trish’s boyfriend, and a Wall St. investment banker. While encouraging Victor to invest in his businesses and make money, Carmen starts to feel detached from Victor. Victor uproots himself and Carmen to the Tribeca area and his boys starts to feel betrayed. While torn between going legit and losing his friends, unexpected events put Victor’s empire in peril.

Reyes wrote the film based on his own experience while living in the Bronx and he does a good job capturing the small details one might notice. The small apartments down to the crowded room filled with relatives. From “Scarface” to “Carlito’s Way”, this film serves as a brother. There’s no new approach here, but what made those films stand out applies in this film as well. The main character is always appealing and Leguizamo shines in his role as Victor. He has the look and talk down pat. Newcomer Cotto holds her own as the girlfriends who has put up with the change in Victor’s life. Fat Joe and Treach are completely wasted in their “cameos”. Richards, who most recently played the “White She-Devil” in “Undercover Brother” is okay in her role but her lines, were the worst in the film. Sarsgaard is very believable and sincere in his role as Jack. The soundtrack to the film features a list of today’s best artist from India Arie to Jon Secada. Reyes wrote 4 of the tracks and it’s fantastic and worth listening. Overall, nothing new is learned from Empire but you gain a new appreciation for John Leguizamo through his bravado acting.



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