Directed By Carey Williams
Starring – RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, Sebastian Chacon
The Plot – Ready for a night of legendary partying, three college students must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an unexpected situation
Rated R for pervasive language, drug use and some sexual references
Over the past decade, there have been no shortage of films pertaining to racial inequality and police injustice against minorities, but “Emergency” manages to attack this angle with a refreshing coming-of-age narrative that deconstructs an abundance of themes through the eyes of an ambitious youth, while supplanting a surprising dominance of humor over its tonal capacities. This doesn’t make it the best of these offerings, but it does elicit a fearless approach to the psychological stigma of its characters, all the while using laughter in methods that are uncomfortable for the audience, based entirely on the candid lack of resistance in honesty that Williams stitches together in the authenticity of the interactions. That laughter is sometimes downright silly, especially the further the night takes these combustible characters and their mounting conflicts, but its consistency to effectiveness never comes at a cost of the dramatic tension that surrounds the reality of their situation, instead simultaneously elevating it with the air of inevitability that motivates every one of their sometimes illogical decisions, all the while further fleshing out the differences in these best friends that make them such compelling protagonists. For Watkins’ Kunle, it’s the expectations of potential weighing heavily on his shoulders, which could easily go up in smoke from a cultural misunderstanding. Because he was raised to always be a winner, he’s expected to always do the right thing, which is the polar opposite to Cylar’s Sean, whose wisdom for experience is the voice often deviating Kunle in the opposite direction. Cylar and Watkins are nothing short of brilliant and mesmerizing in their respective roles. Cylar has a timing and confidence for delivery that echoes Eddie Murphy in his prime, and Watkins equally captivates with a rawness for energy and naturalism in the role that easily cement him as a protagonist whom we’re continuously invested in. But one duo that even tops Cylar and Watkins in terms of importance is Williams and writer K.D Davila, who convey the vulnerability of black men in a series of instances that are socially relevant to today’s preconceived prejudices. It’s not only interesting how these two work these sociological commentaries into this night from hell that would otherwise be considered humorous in a similarly structured film, based on the ironies alone, but also in the commitment to portrayal, which affords their protagonists many nuances of characterization that flesh out the buddy elements of the picture. This pays off immensely to the finale because it pulls on more than a few heartstrings while solidifying what each of these men mean to the other, and you quickly find astonished by the rollercoaster of emotions that this film has continuously took you on. It proves that each of them are forces to be reckoned with, even if it took their careers slightly longer to find that mainstream success, but also how they value the unexpected above all else, and how that pays off tremendously for the riveting depth of their directing and storytelling unraveling.
As far as things that didn’t work for me, I found the script to occasionally fall victim to a few slow moments that took away from the urgency of its inescapable conflict. In doing my research, I found out that “Emergency” is based on a short film, and in knowing that it’s easy to interpret what was added to this extended reworking to pad out its run time to feature length. In particular, a few characters are introduced at around the midway point in the film, and while they do bare a relevance to the events transpiring within the bad luck of the dual protagonists, its underdeveloped tragically in a way that feels painfully inferior in both characterization and compelling storytelling, leaving the middle of this film the obvious weakness that occasionally grinds the momentum to a screeching halt. In addition to this, and perhaps the even bigger problem to my experience, the film is loaded with enough conveniences to stock an all night gas station. While I justified and comprehended why Kunle and Sean felt a certain way about why they were doing what they were doing, the ways these conflicts materialize and continue are ridiculous to say the least, leading to no shortage of eye-rolling instances that took away the authenticity from the engagement. It’s one of those films that could easily be solved in fifteen minutes if these characters would talk to each other, and I don’t mean the black youths and the police, but rather the black and white youths forced to endure the night together under one roof. It comes full circle with a yawning cliche of a third act breakup that is not only ridiculous in how it sparks, but also in how its telegraphed influence contradicts everything about the spontaneity of aforementioned surprise that Williams spends 80 minutes prior attaining.
Through a barrage of sudden but scintillating tonal shifts and two unforgettable turns from Cylar and Watkins, “Emergency” is an emotional rollercoaster that uses sophomoric humor to paint a false sense of security with its assuming audience, before pulling the blind back with the reality of racial and police injustices. It’s “Superbad” meets “Fruitvale Station”, and one of those thought-provoking pieces of cinema that conveys the biggest emergency is not the one transpiring on-screen, but rather the one it mirrors with unrelenting insight.
My Grade: 8/10 or B