Action Incorporated

P's performance is oddly schizophrenic throughout Da Last Don: It seems that somewhere along the line, while filming this thing, he forgot how to be a gangster. At first he's the noble don, promising to clean up his father's slumping imperium by ridding the streets of drugs, driving dealers out of their territories by shooting them out. But later in the film, he inexplicably turns to running guns internationally and becomes a power-mad nut case. He's administered fellatio while driving his Range Rover, and he inanely drops into a Tony Montana-ish Colombian accent from time to time. ("Fuck everybody who fucks with me, man!")

In the lower-tier action realm, one person's lame performance doesn't always drag a whole film down, but that's what happens here. Every nuance, every plot point -- hell, every character -- is ludicrous. In Da Last Don's climactic shootout scene (a gangster-movie must), P actually turns moralistic about living the life of a murderous Mob thug: "I'm no different than your everyday politician," P says, dipping again into that inane Colombian accent. "Society made me like this, man."

And with that silly sendoff, whatever message P was shooting for is lost. But does it really matter? His audience seems to have accepted Master P for what he is: a rapper who wallows in style over substance. His Dapper Dan wardrobe in the movie is clearly indicative of that superficial, materialistic ethos. A merry-go-round of mindless, cheap thrills for No Limit's CD-scarfing masses, Da Last Don assures Master P's place as the Joel Silver of blaxploitation.

For what it's worth, Master P protege Snoop Doggy Dogg scores slightly better in the rapper-as-video-thespian department. On the third and newest release from P's production posse, Da Game of Life, Snoop plays Smooth, a suave-as-hell gambler who picks horses for the local Mob. When our antihero gets the chance to run his own casino, he goes all out, calling it the Dogg House and making every schmuck who walks in feel welcome. "We had a window just for cashing in food stamps," Smooth says in the voice-over. "Shit, we didn't discriminate." For security Smooth hires his characteristically psychotic jailbird cousin, Money (played by rapper C-Murder, Master P's younger brother). Predictably, that's when the bloodshed starts.

You'd have to be completely out of the loop not to recognize the remarkably similar Coppola/Scorsese/De Palma gimmicks P uses in all his flicks, including Game. But what makes this 30-minute (45, if you count the requisite video clips at the end) minimovie skirt disposability is Snoop Doggy Dogg's surprisingly affecting performance. We're not talking Olivier here, but at least he's believable. Don't get me wrong: Game is still about as useless as luxury rims on a '73 Impala, but it's tolerable. It's a third-rate knockoff, but it's a respectable third-rate knockoff.

Everything points to the prospect of Master P and his No Limit cartel churning out more video magic, if not in the same dizzying quantity as they do albums. Currently two new productions are in the works starring Master P and comedian Eddie Griffin. One of them, Foolish, should drop by the end of the year. At the very least, you gotta credit P for giving the crude and gratuitous world of low-end filmmaking a certain degree of urban credibility. In fact, he almost makes the unflattering "direct-to-video" tag seem legit.

Almost.

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