Total Recall: Ice Cube's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Lottery Ticket star.
By the time he celebrated his 20th birthday, Ice Cube had already helped found -- and had departed -- one of the most influential rap groups of all time. But as we soon learned, his time with N.W.A. was only the beginning: Cube quickly went on to start an acclaimed solo career, and with 1991's Boyz N the Hood, established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the big screen. Since then, he's amassed an eclectic filmography -- one with room for action, dramas, comedies, and family-friendly fare, and plenty of critical highs and lows to match. With his latest release, Lottery Ticket, appearing in theaters this weekend, we decided to take a look back at the critical highlights of Cube's film oeuvre. It's time for Total Recall!
Say what you will about Ice Cube's script choices in general -- or about 1997's Anaconda in particular -- but when Luis Llosa was casting this B-movie spectacular and looking for someone to play Danny Rich, the baddest documentary cameraman on the Amazon, there was really only one man for the part. Who besides Ice Cube can look equally at home wielding a lens and chopping a giant anaconda to death with an axe? And sure, this is a silly flick -- but at least it embraces the silliness. As Lisa Schwarzbaum put it in her review for Entertainment Weekly, "Anaconda, directed by Luis Llosa with all of the subtlety of a snake-oil salesman, is in the great tradition of cinematic cheese, as processed as Kraft Singles slices."
Ice Cube hasn't always had the best luck with family films (Are We There Yet? and Are We Done Yet? being prime examples), and when word got out that he'd be starring in an inspirational sports drama directed by Fred Durst, it seemed safe to assume that The Longshots would be more of the same. While far from successful either critically or financially, this fact-based movie -- about the obstacles overcome by Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer) to play in the Pop Warner Super Bowl -- proved a pleasant surprise for some, including Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times, who mused, "The Longshots is a likable enough Cinderella story, one whose heart is clearly in the right place, even if it winds up on its sleeve once too often."
Cube reunited with Boyz N the Hood director John Singleton for 1995's Higher Learning, an ensemble drama about racial and sexual tensions in mid ?90s America, as seen and embodied through a diverse group of college students. As a black nationalist nicknamed Fudge, Cube gave voice to much of the movie's political subtext, and provided a counterpoint to the unfocused rage of white supremacist Remy (Michael Rapaport). Learning's thorny themes gave Singleton a lot to move through in a two-hour movie, and as far as most critics were concerned, he didn't go deep enough -- but others were simply happy to see a film with a message. As Todd McCarthy wrote for Variety, "Higher Learning has a great many things on its mind, which immediately places it in a rather exclusive category of American films these days."
As he had with Boyz N the Hood -- and would go on to do with Higher Learning -- Ice Cube helped tackle racially charged topics in The Glass Shield, a police drama from director Charles Burnett about a rookie cop (Michael Boatman) who becomes the first black cop at an all-white station just in time to become involved in the wrongful prosecution of a murder suspect (Cube). Grossing a little over $3 million during its limited release, Shield slid under the radar, despite a cast that also included Lori Petty -- but for a number of critics, it represented another solid entry in Burnett's filmography. As Marjori Baumgarten summed it up for the Austin Chronicle, "Though The Glass Shield gets bogged down in some of its narrative byways, the journey, nonetheless, is rich and rewarding."
After the bloated misfire of 1990's Another 48 Hrs., director Walter Hill needed a project that would get him back to basics, and he found it in Trespass, an urban update on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre that pitted two firefighters (Bill Paxton and William Sadler) against a gangster (Ice-T) and his bloodthirsty lieutenant (Ice Cube). Unapologetically nihilistic and gleefully violent, Trespass presaged future Hill vehicles like Last Man Standing (right down to the Ry Cooder soundtrack), with the added advantage of a cast filled with comically gifted character actors. Calling it "Claustrophobic, taut and efficient," Chris Hicks of the Deseret News wrote, "like a streamlined car designed to simply get you there, Trespass wastes no time in setting up its premise -- and then just barrels along with an in-your-face attitude and plenty of tightly wound tension."