Most helpful positive review
Amateurish but entertaining
on December 3, 2002
"Set it Off" is far from remarkable, but it's amiable and entertaining. The screenplay was definitely written by amateurs, packing as much melodrama into the storyline as possible. First we introduce the character of Jada Pinkett's brother. She's like a mother figure to him, since their parents are dead. He's a nice guy, gets into a fight with his sister and flees the house. It's no surprise when he turns out dead two scenes later. Then Kimberly Elise's child accidentally swallows some household substances and the custody of the kid is handed over to child services. We have Vivica A. Fox who got fired from her job at the bank and Queen Latifah who's just plain crazy. Basically, the character motivations seem ripped from a soap opera.
The film is predictable from the get-go, so just strap in for the ride. Don't expect high-class writing and high-class direction, especially from the guy who made "Friday." Don't get me wrong, that was a good movie, but like "Set it Off" it's only valuable as lightweight entertainment.
One thing I have to say is this is one black movie that didn't go for the humdrum "white people bad, black people good" premise. I assumed that was the direction the film was going after watching the first scene in which the white bank manager fires Vivica for not following procedure, totally ignoring the fact that she was at gunpoint, along with everyone else in the bank. But then we get introduced to the other two managers, who are both black and both sleazy. Not to say that black people are sleazy; it's just good knowing that the writers weren't associating the term "white" with "sleazy" and didn't see the characters in terms of color. Even the John C. McGinley character, the detective who is out to get the four women, isn't entirely sadistic.
There are a few moments that are just too silly for their own good. Are you telling me two cops are gonna be so distracted by an obnoxious vagrant that they'll totally disregard a bank robbery (literally) taking place right behind them? As I said, you can tell this was written by amateurs. And then we have Queen Latifah driving through the bank in a minivan, which is stupid in the first place and shown simply for cinematic pretentiousness, and the four women drive out, still not being actively pursued by the cops. Latifah makes one turn and suddenly she loses the cops altogether? That's too much disbelief to suspend. And of course, in the usual cinematic tradition, the minor characters have to die first. Kimberly Elise dies in standard operatic fashion--in someone's arms, saying her last words. Only in the movies can someone die like that 90 % of the time.
The acting is pretty good, though sometimes hammy. When Jada sees her brother dead on the street, screaming and crying out, "Whyyyyy!!" (I could be paraphrasing), that was too much. Latifah's role as a crazy thug wasn't much of a stretch, especially since this film was made back in her hip-hop days. She is a fine actress, though, and I prefer her more mature roles in films like "Living Out Loud." John C. McGinley and Blair Underwood add a touch of class.
If F. Gary Gray weren't so dependent on melodrama and big action spectacles to create tension, this wouldn't been a much more compelling film. Maybe someone like John Singleton or the Hughes Brothers could've made this a more powerful film. Just don't set your expectations too high and you should have a good time.