Somewhere around what felt like the third hour of Next Day Air, I took a squint at my cell phone, thinking that it must surely be near the end of its running time. With sinking heart, I discovered I’d been sitting there for a mere 64 minutes. Knock off about 12 minutes for trailers, and the brutal truth was there was at least 40 more minutes of this rubbish to wade through.
I’d originally held out some hope for this movie. The cast was full of likable performers, the improbably named director, Benny Boom, was an unknown commodity, and the trailer made the movie look like a clever African-American variation on a Guy Ritchie picture. Well, Guy Ritchie never made anything this bad and boring on the worst Madonna-influenced, crypto-Kabbalistic day of his life. If Ritchie swallowed a bottle of horse tranquilizers before making a film, he might approach this level of lameness. Maybe.
It didn’t need to be this way. For starters, the premise of Next Day Air is fine. There’s nothing wrong with the idea that a perpetually stoned deliveryman, Leo (Donald Faison), might deliver a package containing ten bricks of cocaine to the wrong address. That the address he delivers it to happens to belong to a pair of small-time crooks, Brody (Mike Epps) and Guch (Wood Harris, Southland Tales), who think their ship has come in is actually good. They’re portrayed as sufficiently lacking in gray matter that they might believe they can get away with making off with someone else’s fortune in drugs. For that matter, the plot is generally workable all the way through.
The problem lies with the combination of first-time screenwriter Blair Cobbs and the direction of the neophyte Mr. Boom. Cobbs has no clue how to flesh out the story and Boom has somewhat less command of the medium of film. Cobbs seems to have grasped the idea that the characters in a Guy Ritchie sort of movie are either idiots or irredeemably nasty—and stupefyingly inept in both cases. However, he missed the fact that the idiots are rather sweetly idiotic and the nasty characters are preposterous. These are significant omissions. Without them, the characters are merely tiresome or unpleasant. On occasion, Cobb manages to make them both, and that is not a winning combination. To see the theoretically likable Brody cut out somebody’s tongue over a hard-to-buy misunderstanding of instructions is both unfunny and unpleasant.
Boom, on the other hand, clearly has no understanding of Ritchie’s stylistic flourishes, even while trying to duplicate them. Ritchie’s may be a kind of cinema of attitude and little else, but it’s an attitude that works on a functional basis that generates a headlong momentum. In RocknRolla (2008), for example, Ritchie reduces a sex scene to maybe a half-dozen quick shots that total a few seconds of screen time. It’s funny, it’s economical, and it keeps the film moving at a nice clip. Ritchie’s approach uses style to develop pace. Boom has no sense of pacing whatsoever. Next Day Air merely lurches along in a ponderous fashion from one unfunny scene to the next, finally barging to a conclusion you saw coming 15 minutes earlier.
You may be lured into seeing Next Day Air because you think Mike Epps is funny. You may be suckered into breaking loose with nine bucks over the prospect that Mos Def is worth it. Don’t. Epps isn’t funny here, and while Mos Def is always a plus, he’s only in two or three negligible scenes and isn’t given much to do in them. If that isn’t enough, the rest of the largely talented cast is equally ill-used. Rated R for pervasive language, drug content, some violence and brief sexuality.