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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Poetic Justice (1998)

"Nobody, but nobody, can make it outta here alone."
- Justice (Janet Jackson)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: July 06, 2001

Stars: Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur
Other Stars: Regina King, Joe Torry, Maya Angelou
Director: John Singleton

Manufacturer: DVDS
MPAA Rating: R for (language, violence, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:49m:02s
Release Date: May 08, 2001
UPC: 043396523999
Genre: romance

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+B+B C+

DVD Review

Poetic Justice stars Janet Jackson as Justice, a young woman working in a South Central L.A. beauty salon, writing poetry and mourning the shooting death of her boyfriend. She rebuffs the flirtations of neighborhood mail carrier Lucky (Tupac Shakur), but when her friend Iesha (Regina King) invites her along on a double-date mail run with her postal worker boyfriend Chicago (Joe Torry), she gets to know Lucky and begins to like him. Matters are complicated by Lucky's illegitimate young daughter, a subject he is initially reluctant to discuss, and the disintegrating relationship of Iesha and Chicago during the long trip to Oakland.

Writer/director John Singleton took an artistic and box-office risk by following up his enormously successful Boyz N the Hood with this romantic drama. Fortunately, his sense of the sights and sounds of South Central Los Angeles is not wasted hereˇhis camera captures modern-day courtship rites and rituals with naturalism and humor. Poetic Justice is visually straightforward, though Singleton exercises considerable style in other areas. Justice's exquisite poetry was contributed by Dr. Maya Angelou (who also plays a small role in the film), and Jackson's voice-over readings respect the language and feeling of the material. Singleton wisely takes the second act out of L.A. into the California countryside, a good choice that frees the characters for interaction abroad and includes a very funny sequence in which the four hungry friends crash a large family reunion. An eclectic soundtrack includes artists ranging from George Gershwin to Dr. Dre, and Singleton draws nuanced performances and genuine chemistry from Janet Jackson (in her screen debut) and the late, underappreciated Tupac Shakur.

This is not to say that Poetic Justice is flawless. It's slow to get off the ground, and the supporting characters are two-dimensional, especially Iesha and Chicago, who wear out their welcome long before they cease to be part of the story. The alcoholic Iesha is shallow and selfish, the constantly preening Chicago is sexist and self-aggrandizing, and neither character has anywhere to go after establishing the negative example. Clich╚s of the "urban drama" genre intrude at the most inappropriate times, with gratuitous fistfights, gunplay, and drug incidents draining energy from the movie's central theme, and a general predictability makes this "street romance" seem a mite too long. It seems to be fighting with itself at times, unsure of where it wants to go until it gets there.

Still, Poetic Justice is an interesting effort from a young director experimenting with his cinematic voice and tackling a new subject. Singleton's take on romance may not be his best work, but when it succeeds in getting beyond the sexual/political posturing of contemporary relationships, however momentarily, it rings true.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Columbia presents Poetic Justice in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, with a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan version on the flipside. Both transfers suffer excessive edge enhancement, but detail and color are competently handled, with impressive shadow detail in low-lighting situations. The end credits are noticeably soft, but the film generally looks presentable on DVD. As usual, the widescreen transfer is preferable to the pan-and-scan versionˇSingleton's carefully composed shots are frequently butchered in the "reformatting" process, marginalizing one character or the other during key conversations and confrontations.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishno

Audio Transfer Review: Poetic Justice on DVD retains its original Dolby 2.0 Surround audio mix, with alternate French and Spanish 2.0 stereophonic tracks. The Dolby Surround mix features clear music and strong bass, though dialogue is slightly muddy in a few spots. Directional sound effects are rare and limited to the front soundstage, with surrounds used only for subtle envelopment. It's not a bad soundtrack, with impressive LFE content by 2.0 standards, and the DVD transfer is solid enough. The French and Spanish stereo tracks feature active left/right separation, though there's something unavoidably amusing about French-language dubbing applied to le Hood.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Boyz N the Hood, Higher Learning
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director John Singleton
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Poetic Justice on DVD features 28 chapter stops, subtitles in three languages, and a handful of standard supplements:

Theatrical Trailers:

Trailers for three John Singleton films include Poetic Justice, Boyz N the Hood, and Higher Learning. All are presented in soft, video-mastered 1.33:1 pan-and-scan format with 2.0 audio; the presentations are generally mediocre, with particularly poor audio on the Higher Learning trailer.

Bios & Filmographies:

Brief, well-written biographies and selected filmographies are provided for director John Singleton; cast members Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Regina King and Joe Torry; and poetic muse Maya Angelou.

Director's Commentary:

Director John Singleton contributes a running commentary, augmenting the keepcase liner notes with his thoughts on Poetic Justice and its place in his body of work. He's soft-spoken and deliberate, discussing the making of the film when he was 24 years old, with an awareness of the business and his own tendencies and interests as a filmmaker. There's some interesting information here, but Singleton's casual speaking style and periodic silences require some patience.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

John Singleton's Poetic Justice is an urban romance set in South Central L.A., with strong lead performances by Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. Columbia TriStar's DVD features a good transfer and decent supplements; worth checking out.


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