THEY'RE JUST MY FRIENDSNR
Any low-budget filmmaker who can get his or her picture completed with a story, professional actors and crew, and a theatrical release has accomplished something, and one needs to respect that. So with all due respect, the only question a responsible critic can have when faced with this shot-on-video urban crime drama about an African-American boxer-biker-Bronxite-Freemason is "What the #%@!!??"
Executive producer, star and co-writer Patrick Nwamu, Jr., a real-life cruiserweight boxer and occasional actor, plays the semiautobiographical role of "Punchin" Pat Black, Jr. Directed by Attika J. Torrence with the finesse of a home movie, and seemingly lit by flashlight, They're Just My Friends opens with Pat's Bronxite Italian-American childhood friends introducing him to wiseguys who're going to manage his career. Pat wins his first pro bout, and then...well, we have no idea, because the boxing part of the movie is finished.
Now comes the interracial-romance drama, as Pat dates (to use a euphemism) his friend Anthony's (Louis Vanaria) cousin Gina (Rue Debona). Following a fight with her ex-boyfriend and crew, Pat's thrown in jail for eight months, during which time Gina visits once and is basically told: Hey, it's not you, it's me, I'm going through a lot right now. When she attempts a post-jail reconciliation, he tells her the same. Exit Gina.
OK, it's not a relationship drama. What next? Crime drama! This version of the movie seems to stick as Pat gets in deeper and deeper with a number of major characters who keep getting introduced deeper and deeper into the movie: a homicidal Dominican drug dealer/police informant (Michael Chenevert); the drug-running cousin (Jas Anderson) of a guy Pat met in jail; a police detective (soap-opera star Michael Easton), and so on. If the movie didn't end in the middle of that story, who knows what would have come next. Maybe a musical.
The most amazing thing about this acid-trip narrative is that hanging over the whole project are the Masons, of which Nwamu is a real-life member, or at least until his elders get wind of this. Pat meets regularly with his late father's (Malik Yoba) best friend Frank Gibbs (Bruce Altman), some sort of big Mason muckety-muck who metaphorically raps Pat's knuckles with a ruler every now and then. In one ripe bit of dialogue that made a roomful of critics burst out laughing, a mob boss declares that they can't make a hit on Pat because, "This kid is protected by [dramatic pause] da lodge!!"
I can only hope Frank Gibbs doesn't do like in the movie, and call a U.S. senator to put the kibosh on me and all the other critics of this (and I use the term loosely) film.