“You’re different. You’re not like them.”
Our hero Elijah has managed, against the odds, to make it to manhood. Why against the odds? Well, while still a young boy, Elijah experiences his stepfather being sent to prison unjustly and his mother being institutionalized after she has a breakdown as a result. Left on his own, Elijah gets into some minor trouble, but eventually is released and grows up living in a succession of group homes. He has a gift for photography and drawing that sustains him and eventually leads to the offer of a college scholarship. The scholarship falls through, however, and it’s downhill from there with Elijah eventually killing a man during a fight. It’s accidental, but he has a mediocre lawyer and an aggressive prosecutor manages to get him convicted and sentenced to serve 15 years to life in prison.
I’m not sure what the objective of making this film was. Other than an ending that is somewhat unexpected, there’s certainly little new about the plot, which after a somewhat interesting beginning degenerates into the usual prison story clichés of corrupt prison officials and misfit inmates. Maybe the intent was just to use a familiar story as a way to showcase hip-hop artist Q-Tip (an odd choice for a stage name) and provide cameos for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Justin DJ Spaulding, Clay Da Raider, Fat Joe, and Casper Martinez (whoever they may be). Every so often, one of them breaks out into some vocabulary-challenged lyrics. You might think that one could call it a musical then, but since the number of songs is few and there’s little evidence of musical talent on display, that would be a stretch.
Q-Tip is actually not bad as the grown-up Elijah, although he relies a little too much on a quizzical, pained expression as his chief acting technique. The script, at least for its first three-quarters, almost forces Q-Tip into this as his character is made to be reactive for the most part. One can see some acting promise in Q-Tip when Elijah ceases to be so passive towards the film’s end. Darnell Martin co-wrote and directed. She has had previous directing experience on TV and with a 1994 feature film I Like It Like That that showed some feel for the ironies of everyday life. That film’s simple pleasures make one wonder why the second film took so long in coming. Too bad the wait wasn’t really worth it!
New Line has given the film a DVD transfer that far exceeds the film’s intrinsic worth. Both full frame and 1.85:1 anamorphic versions are available. The latter looks very crisp and clear with no edge effects evident. Two Dolby Digital soundtracks are provided — 5.1 and 2.0 stereo surround. Neither are particularly notable, lacking any real punch and displaying little effective use of the surrounds, even during the music numbers. Theatrical trailers for films having some kinship with Prison Song are included — Above the Rim, Talkin’ Dirty After Dark, Carmen: A Hip Hopera, and Bones, but not for Prison Song itself.