Director: Malik Vitthal
Producers: Mark Bienstock
Screenplay: Nicholas McCarthy, Richmond Riedel
Music: Joseph Bishara
Cinematography: Pedro Luque
Cast: Mary J. Blige, Nat Wolff, David Zayas, Anika Noni Rose
“To Serve and Protect…and Die”
Body Cam, a new action thriller (with a heavy dose of the supernatural) gets off to a good start, then careens back and forth from horror to social commentary, never really settling comfortable into either. It’s a noble effort from director Malik Vitthal (Imperial Dreams, 2014) but the tonal shifts and weak script (courtesy of Nicholas McCarthy and Richmond Riedel) do him no favors. Even the undeniable presence of Mary J. Blige can’t elevate Body Cam above B-list territory.
When a routine traffic stop results in the unexplained, grisly death of her colleague, a cop (Mary J. Blige)
finds body cam police footage of the incident (which only she can see).
As the attacks mount, she races to understand the supernatural force behind them. In most movies, this storyline would provide enough substance. In Body Cam, however, we’re also handed a few more subplots. Blige’s character is a grieving mother, her son lost in a tragic pool accident. There’s the obligatory corrupt police department (a cliché that’s been around as long as the movies themselves). On top of that, there is a good deal of social commentary; the movie opens in the aftermath of an unarmed black boy killed by the police. This is a lot to juggle at one time and, unfortunately, it’s a juggling act that can’t be executed.
There are highlights. An extended scene in a convenience store (involving a shootout and the appearance of the supernatural presence bent on revenge) is exciting and well-staged; Vitthal deftly handles the action scenes. A flashback showing the murder of a deaf black boy is appropriately disturbing and powerful. There are three or four good scares that made me jump. And gore hounds won’t be disappointed in the graphic content of Body Cam, even if we never really get a good look at the vengeful spirit that terrorizes the police force. Overly dark cinematography by Pedro Luque doesn’t help. When most of the action takes place at night it’s imperative the audience at least be able to see what’s essential.
As for Mary J. Blige, I found her performance lacking, though the script doesn’t give her much opportunity to show off her acting chops (not even during scenes of grief over her dead son). Had I not seen her shine in her Oscar-nominated role in 2017’s Mudbound, I’d figure her to be an actress of limited means. She deserves better.
Body Cam also suffers from extended periods of inaction. There are one-too-many scenes of Blige and others walking through dark buildings, investigating empty rooms and searching through cluttered drawers; it feels as though these scenes exist to pad an already short run time of 96 minutes.
Overall Body Cam is a mixed bag. A stronger script would have definitely served the cast better. Vitthal is attempting too much. Horror. Ghost story. Police thriller. Social injustice. That’s a heavy load for one film to carry. Unfortunately in failing to pull off any of those with solid success Body Cam ends
up as another B-grade flick with lots to say but no place to go.
From the Back Row, Left of Center…