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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Zebrahead (1992)

"It's about change... It's about time."
- Tagline

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: November 08, 2002

Stars: Michael Rapaport, Deshonn Castle, N'Bushe Wright
Other Stars: Ron Johnson, Ray Sharkey, Paul Butler
Director: Anthony Drazan

MPAA Rating: R for (strong language, violence, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:42m:03s
Release Date: June 18, 2002
UPC: 043396083370
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- CB+C+ D-

DVD Review

The early 1990s were a turbulent time in many American cities, with racial tensions constantly threatening to boil over into race riots and gang warfare. These pertinent social issues slowly crept into Hollywood cinema, with 1989's Do the Right Thing and 1991's Boyz N' the Hood tackling the issues head on. It's interesting to note that these controversial films were either very low budget or were produced independently and picked up by the studios only after they had proven themselves a success on the festival circuit. It was feared that any film too incendiary would trigger yet more riots (showings of Boyz N' the Hood were indeed factors in a number of racial crimes in Los Angeles in 1991) and Hollywood seemed wary of being blamed for yet another social ill. Zebrahead, executive-produced by Oliver Stone and written and directed by Anthony Drazan, was one of those indies that managed to find a mainstream audience. It pushes a lot of buttons, and must've seemed very controversial at the time (including, as it does, an interracial romance that leads to violence in a Detroit high school), but in retrospect, it all feels rather shopworn, the somewhat compelling romance overpowered by routine scenes of violence and arguments full of racial slurs.

Our star-cross'd lovers are Zack (Michael Rappaport), who is white, and Nikki (N'Bushe Wright), who is black. Nikki's cousin Dee (Deshonn Castle) is Zack's best friend, but their relationship is tested when those around them begin to gossip about the interracial romance. Zack's friends tease him about having "jungle fever" whilst Nikki's friends make fun of her boyfriend for "trying to be black." Their families get into the act, with Nikki's mother totally against the idea of her daughter dating a white boy, and the situation becomes even more complicated when a gangbanger, Nut (Ron Johnson), decides that he wants Nikki for himself. The conflict soon escalates, and simmering racial tensions at the school threaten to boil over.

Spike Lee tried something very similar with his own Jungle Fever, using an interracial romance as a jumping off point for a story about prejudice and gang violence. And, like that film, Zebrahead feels too busy, glossing over the romance to focus on the violence. The thing is, there have been many excellent films about gang violence already (see the aforementioned Boyz N' the Hood). Why overshadow the untold story with one that is rote and shopworn? We rarely see Nikki and Zack together, so their relationship carries little weight—their superficial attraction hardly seems worth the strife it causes.

Rappaport and Wright give appealing performances, and I wish we saw them together a little bit more. Drazan's direction isn't bad either—he's able to capture the proceedings with a certain realism, never pushing things too far, never turning his story into a melodrama. But it feels like he's telling the wrong story. Maybe in 1992, with the Rodney King riots turning L.A. into a war zone, it seemed necessary for a film like this to tackle violence head on, even if it meant pushing the romance aside. In fact, one of the best onscreen representations of an interracial romance came nearly a decade later, and in the form of a teen flick to boot. I might be the only one who'd say it, but Save the Last Dance is everything I wanted Zebrahead to be.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Image quality is fine, if unremarkable. Colors are nice and solid, though fleshtones are a bit on the orange side. I noticed a few instances of aliasing and minor artifacting, but nothing too serious. Edge enhancement isn't a problem, though the transfer is a little soft overall. The print used for the master shows little in the way of flaws or scratches.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in only a fairly dull DD 2.0 mix. Most everything stays up front, and though dialogue is always clear, it occasionally sounds somewhat flat and lifeless (with a few obvious instances of ADR). The music fills out the front soundstage a bit, but most everything seems to come primarily from the center channel. The rear channels stay more or less silent throughout, save for some occasional bleedthrough from the score.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Boyz N' the Hood, Higher Learning
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This basically featureless disc includes only bonus trailers for urban dramas Boyz N' the Hood and Higher Learning.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

Zebrahead is an alternately engaging and frustrating racial drama. The potential of the central storyline is wasted, buried under clichéd subplots about urban violence and gang warfare. It received a lot of praise upon release—probably due to the controversial (at the time) subject matter—but a decade later it shows its age.

 


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