Like Poetic Justice, except not at all.
Fresh out of prison for a gun-assault charge, Bambi (John Boyega) is ready to make a change in his life. However, the life that he left behind isn’t willing to let him go. With his son’s mom (Keke Palmer), in prison, there’s no one really to care for him, which leaves Bambi up to the task. But taking care and keeping watch over your son is one thing – keeping a stable roof over him, is a whole other completely. After Bambi refuses to help his cousin go to Portland and beat out an assault charge, his uncle (Glenn Plummer) kicks him out of the house and on the street, where Bambi and his son will have to make due with what they’ve got. In this case, it’s the car, so they begin to start calling that home, while Bambi is out looking for a job. And since Bambi is an accomplished poet, he hopes that he’ll be able to make it big somehow through that. Little does Bambi know that the streets are unforgiving to you, no matter who, or what you are.
Imperial Dreams is a movie that’s clearly set in today’s day and age, very relevant, and deals with a lot of important issues of race, gender, class, wealth, and economics, that are very hot-button now, as we speak. So why does it feel like a product of the 90’s? It’s odd, because while the “hood” subgenre of film isn’t necessarily a dated one, but it still feels like something of yesteryear, when G-funk and Dr. Dre was blasted on every car-stereo. But now, many, many years later, Imperial Dreams, while feeling like a movie made, and taking place in, the 90’s, still hits the right emotional spots that it means to, mostly because the world hasn’t changed all that much.
Okay, maybe it has. But not in the important ways it’s supposed to, anyway.
See. with Imperial Dreams, co-writer/director Malik Vitthal gets across the notion that it doesn’t matter if you’ve changed your act and have decided to become a full-fledged, law abiding citizen – if you’re young, black, poor, and ever been convicted of a crime, then guess what? There’s no future for you. Sorry. It’s a shame and it’s a sad world that we live in, but of course, it is the world and it’s one that many young, black, and/or poor ex-felons face.
But it shouldn’t sound like Vitthal is preaching here, because rather than getting on his soapbox and letting the world know his thoughts and feelings on classicism and the way the government continuously lets down its black and impoverished citizens, he tells a story that may seem to descriptive and specific to really connect to anyone, but it still somehow does. Bambi’s story involves a lot of heartbreak, death, sadness and most importantly, anger, but it doesn’t ever seem like it wants to be about any of those things, as much as it wants to be about just not giving up and trying your absolute hardest to fulfill your dreams. Sounds cheesy, I know, but in the context of the movie, it works and it makes you feel more and more for Bambi altogether.
Which is also to say that John Boyega is quite good in the role. While we have yet to fully see his talents on-display yet in a movie dedicated to exposing them, Boyega shows that he’s got a certain presence to him that keeps him interesting, even when it seems like his character could lapse into convention. Through the whole movie, Bambi remains an angry, frustrated and sometimes tortured soul, but he keeps on trying and there’s something about that spirit of his that’s, at the very least, inspirational. But like I said, it’s not as corny as I make it sound and it helps that Boyega is here to help this character out when he needs it the most.
Unfortunately, Bambi’s about the only character here that isn’t a total and absolute cliché and it’s what brings the movie down a whole notch.
See, while the movie is smart about knowing and understanding these conventions of a hood movie, the characters seem to prove otherwise. For instance, Bambi’s brother is a young kid who’s future’s looking bright and beautiful, with a college scholarship and close relationship to the church. But for some reason, the movie changes its tune about halfway through and decides to make him something of a hard-ass that doesn’t want these things anymore and is, all of a sudden, ready to ruin his life for one stupid act. Doesn’t make much sense and eventually, all of the flip-flopping around gets confusing.
Same goes with Bambi’s uncle, as played by Glenn Plummer (in an obvious nod to South Central), who seems like he was ripped out of Don’t Be a Menace, thrown in here, and never told that what he was working with here was meant to be serious. It helps that Plummer’s a talented actor, but even some of the lines he has to work with, don’t always connect and seem genuine. They just seem like notes and beats these kinds of movies are supposed to touch on and use and well, it’s a bit silly.
Still though, there’s a heart and soul here that, above all other flaws, still gets itself across.
Consensus: With a good performance from Boyega in the lead and a heartfelt message about overcoming all adversity, Imperial Dreams gets by on its heart, as much as it gets taken down by its sometimes conventional and formulaic script.
7 / 10