|Starring:||Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Capone, Robert Stapleton, Devon Aoki|
The split between the former co-owners of the powerful hip-hop label Roc-a-Fella Records is spoofed by one who should know the story well, Roc-a-Fella’s own Damon Dash. Poking fun at the negative rumors that often swirl around the musical genre, Dash and writer Adam ‘Blue’ Moreno attempt to good-naturedly lampoon the hip-hop world, which is a fine idea, but there’s two glaring problems — “Death of a Dynasty” isn’t all that unique or funny. Kind of like a cross between “Malibu’s Most Wanted” and the amusing 1994 hip-hop mockumentary “Fear of a Black Hat,” Dash’s film never really gets going and consistently loses steam as it plods along.
Damon Dash and recently retired hip-hop superstar Jay-Z were partners in the mega-successful empire, Roc-a-Fella Records. “Death of a Dynasty” picks up when a white journalist, Dave Katz (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), is sent on assignment by his magazine, The Mic, to write a behind-the-scenes article about the inner, day-to-day workings of Roc-a-Fella. Via the Vanilla Ice-like Dave, we meet the principals involved in the label — Damon (Capone), Jay-Z (Robert Stapleton), the silent partner Biggs (Gerald Kelly), and eventually the woman who comes between Damon and Jay-Z, Picasso (the suddenly omnipresent Devon Aoki). As Dave tries to indoctrinate himself into this world — while also striking a covert deal with a newspaper to feed them the inside scoop — and be a “playa,” witnessing first hand the friction that will turn the Roc-a-Fella partners into intense rivals, it becomes readily apparent that not everything is as it seems.
I like some hip-hop music and appreciate certain aspects of the culture, but generally don’t keep my ear to the ground when it comes to hip-hop news and gossip. I know next to nothing about the real split between Damon Dash and Jay-Z, so I’m not above considering my lack of information could be the reason this film’s humor failed to connect with me. I haven’t seen enough of the real Damon Dash and Jay-Z (I guess most of the hip-hop I like is pre-1995) to know if the actors who play them — respectively Capone and Robert Stapleton — are doing credible jobs.
But however you slice it, the film’s plot simply is not well executed. Ebon Moss-Bachrach seems to be a capable enough performer in this role, but his character is just not given much with which to work. The dialogue is bland, and the situations the characters find themselves in don’t serve the comedy’s best interest.
The press notes explain that Moreno’s script was originally intended to be a realistic portrayal of Roc-a-Fella Records, but the writer and Dash decided to re-work the screenplay to explore the inherent comedic potential. A chief reason the film falls flat is because it appears the script wasn’t completely re-imagined to elicit the most humor from the material. Using Dave Katz, the goofy outsider who thinks he’s an “insider,” as the film’s main character/fall guy/laughing stock is a much too obvious and tired device. The movie’s funniest moment, by far, comes courtesy of a cameo by DMC and the late Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC, who amusingly mock their status as hip-hop grandfathers.
It’s good to see Damon Dash, who seems like a very serious guy (judging by a few of his interviews), is comfortable making a film that’s humor is, at least partially, of the self-deprecating variety. But he also could’ve produced a movie with distinct insight and, given who he is, a true stamp of authenticity. Instead “Death of a Dynasty” only goes for the easy laughs and plays like a movie any semi-competent comedy filmmaker, regardless of their knowledge of the subject, could have directed.