Dutch

This notably awful crime drama is chock full of painfully amateurish acting, cartoonish characters, egregious stereotypes and dialogue that lands like a bowling ball dropped onto polished marble.

"Oh, I don't lie: I enjoy the harvest of my labor."

There are a number of ways to approach reviewing a terrible movie. The most common is to go into full-on mockery mode, which, as Anton Ego from "Ratatouille" noted, "is fun to write and to read." There's the opposite end of resentment and rage, which I've occasionally indulged in, as with last summer's "Tenet." I once panned a movie entirely in bullet points.

Then there are movies so transcendentally awful, like the crime drama "Dutch," that my mood upon receiving them is best described as astonishment. I truly can't believe this got made, or released.

Written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II, "Dutch" is chock full of painfully amateurish acting, cartoonish characters, egregious racial and gender stereotypes, and dialogue that lands like a bowling ball dropped onto polished marble. You can read some of it, verbatim, sprinkled throughout this column.

Without hyperbole, I've seen better from rookie filmmakers on their first no-budget feature. I loathed every minute watching it and put a hex on those responsible for stealing 109 minutes from life I'll never get back. (Not counting the time spent writing this, which I'm striving to minimize.)

"Food is important to me, and I don't like to be interrupted!"

"Dutch" is part courtroom drama, part gangster picture, a little bit coming-of-age story. It arises from the entire oeuvre of movies that wants to model itself after "Scarface" -- even though that's a sprawling mess of a movie itself. The narrative is hard to follow as it uses the trial of the main character as its through-line, with jumbled flashbacks to "7 years ago" or "3 years ago." 

Characters float in and out of the story, important ones being introduced rather late and others we only saw played by another actor as a teenager suddenly showing up and we're supposed to know who it is.

Bernard James, aka Dutch, is a drug dealer from Newark who has risen to the top of the game. He's played by Lance Gross, who's given a lot of great suits and not much else to work with. Dutch smiles a lot for a crime lord, in that ironic sideways way like everything people say to him is taken as bitterly funny. He seems to have no center as a person, other than his ambition and his will to dominate.

As the story opens he intrudes upon the lunch of a Michelle, a successful young defense attorney played by Natasha Marc. In a planned gimmick to draw her interest, he hands over a certified check just before the police arrive to arrest him. The two play a cat-and-mouse game the rest of the movie, which gives a reason for the flashbacks to his younger life so we can learn how he came up.

Marc gets handed a lot of the worst lines to say, and somehow manages to make them even more cringeworthy. Her delivery is so stilted and lacking in any kind of a natural speaking rhythm I wouldn't be surprised if you told me she was reading her lines off cue cards, seeing the dialogue for the first time while filming it.

"Withdrawn. I'm done with this liar... I mean, WITNESS."

Lots of background players to follow. Dutch has a crew of three tight friends from childhood, graduating from boosting cars to murder and taking over the drug trade. They include Ferreira Isabella as Angel, a tough girl who gets the movie's obligatory topless scene; Miles Stroter as Qwan, the timid fat kid who turns tail and becomes a reverend; and Jeremy Meeks as Craze, whose name is self-explanatory.

(You may remember Meeks as the "hot felon" guy, whose sexy mugshot was parlayed into a modeling career and now a step into acting. Personally I think his first calling was probably more his speed.)

There are also a handful of swarthy actors all doing that Italian goombah routine, among them Robert Costanzo as the local mob boss, whose name simply must be Fat Tony; Lenny Citrano as the gangster who took young Dutch under his wing; and James Quattrochi as the overtly racist one who wants to take Dutch out.

"You know you're a very sexy woman right?"

"If I didn't, I would be an idiot."

Speaking of, "Dutch" has some of the most horrifying racial overtones of any modern mainstream film I've seen. With few exceptions, every white person is a locus of evil with the n-word trembling on the edge of their lips, every African-American man is a violent hood perpetually fronting aggression, and every Black woman is a shallow striver parlaying her looks in exchange for bling.

This sort of thing was understandable in the day of 1960s-70s Black cinema, when a new wave of filmmakers coyly adopted the stereotypes of the establishment and turned them around to show how skewed they were. Today it's just reductive racialist self-aggrandizing.

James Hyde sneers and scowls as Anthony Jacobs, the local district attorney who is trying the high-profile case of Dutch himself. His character exists only to be the chief representative of white authority, to be figuratively (and literally) spat upon by the Black characters when he offers them deals to snitch on Dutch. 

Never mind that Dutch really seems to be everything the prosecutor describes: a remorseless killer driven only by greed and a lust for power. It's strange that the movie never directly confronts the question of whether he's actually guilty of the crime he's on trial for, sending a suicide bomber into a police precinct, killing 20 cops. That's kind of an important thing to know about your main character.

But it's early yet. I mentioned at the beginning of this review that "Dutch" left me astonished. I didn't mention a prime reason: it's subtitled as "The First of a Trilogy." Yes, that's right, this film ends on a blood-soaked cliffhanger and two sequels are planned. 

All I can say is: Is that a promise? Or a threat?