America is in love with the good guy vs. bad guy movie. We identify with the hero as he successfully battles against overwhelming odds. Remember John Wayne wearing his white Stetson, riding tall in the saddle, defeating the black hat-clad Bad Bart and riding off into the sunset (with or without the girl)? But westerns gave way to the more modern action/adventure flick, and then actioners gave way to urban thrillers. Along the way, the good guys and bad guys traded in their six-shooters for 9mm's and AKs, and they all stopped wearing 10-gallon hats.
So, in Waist Deep, O2 is the good guy ... but only sort of. He's an ex-con who now works as a security guard and just wants to live a normal life with his young son. But when his car gets jacked (with Junior in the backseat) by drug kingpin Big Meat, O2 digs deep into his checkered past to turn Big Meat into mincemeat.
Recruiting the help of Coco (a beautiful hustler who was at first—reluctantly—in on the carjacking) and his drug-addict cousin Lucky, O2 comes up with a plan to start a gang war and steal the money he needs to pay the ransom.
When we first meet O2 and Junior, we're greeted with a genuinely loving father-son relationship. After six years in prison, O2 has come back and dedicated himself to the 10-year-old boy. So devoted is he that he'd rather lose his job than leave the lad waiting too long after school. When O2 finally shows up, Junior runs and jumps into his father's arms, and they openly speak of their love for one another.
Junior is obviously a little afraid because of his dad's late arrival and he asks, "If no one came back for me, what would happen?" O2 replies, "I'll always come back for you." And indeed, after Junior has been kidnapped, O2 goes to great lengths (even foolish and criminal ones; more on that downside later) to get him back. He even willing faces death, believing it will guarantee the boy's safety.
Junior is portrayed, for the most part, as being insulated from the hyper-violent world swirling around him. He's a sweet kid who collects model horses, makes his bed and loves his dad.
After initially trying to run from O2, Coco recognizes his love for his son and agrees to help, putting herself in harm's way. She also takes care of Junior when she thinks O2 is dead.
Members of the community take to the streets seeking help to clean up the neighborhoods. They chant, "Save our streets!"
When O2 asks about her plans, Coco says, "I don't have any plans, just a fantasy." She wants to go to a beach-side town in Mexico that she heard has magic in the ground. It's a place where, "Everything you do is blessed. All your pain is buried. And all your past is forgotten."
Coco is first seen stepping out from the ranks of scantily clad prostitutes on a street corner. The camera lingers seductively on her voluptuous body encased in a tight–fitting, low-cut top and short shorts. Later she dons a robe after stripping down to bra and panties, and she splashes herself with water (as if stepping out of the shower) to seduce a security officer.
Coco's attempt to comfort O2 turns into the two of them having sex. Quick, dimly lit image flashes reveal them kissing passionately, O2 fondling her, both stripping off each other's clothes and implied intercourse.
Always the object of attention, Coco is ogled by nearly everyone she meets. She changes into stolen outfits throughout the movie, each new fashion more revealing than the last.
In one of the film's most visceral and grisly scenes, a very convincingly evil Meat lops off a man's forearm with a machete and slaps him across the face with his own hand. Meat then "encourages" the man to get the money he owes, promising him that he'll give him his hand back when he pays up: "If you hurry, you might even be able to sew this back on."
[Spoiler Warning] We watch Lucky painfully bleed to death after O2 and Coco ineffectually try to treat his bullet wound. That happens after O2 puts multiple bullets into Meat at close range. Then, O2 leads the police on a long high-speed chase, causing at least one squad car to crash and burn. At the end of it, refusing to give himself up, O2 deliberately crashes his car into the water.
O2 manhandles Coco (even threatening her life with his gun) in the beginning as he's searching for information about Junior. But his kidnapping of her seems almost akin to an act of kindness compared to the treatment she receives from another man who hits her repeatedly and crushes her down to the ground. Junior is slapped by his kidnapper, and he's grabbed by the neck.
People are pistol whipped, punched, kicked and smacked with a tire iron. O2 holds a gun on several enemies, and he leaves people tied up and gagged after robbing them. By movie's end, dozens of men are shot and killed.
Philosophically, Waist Deep simultaneously glorifies violence and the restraint required to eliminate it, wallowing in dichotomies and mixed messages. A few scenes are worth pointing out: When Junior finds O2's gun in the glove box. O2 yells at him to never touch a gun—and moments later he ruthlessly kills one of the kidnappers with it. Similarly, O2 brutally bludgeons the man who attacks Coco, saying, "Don't ever put your hands on a woman!" when, minutes before, he had his own pistol jammed in her teeth. Finally, O2 is portrayed as a loving father, but when he learns that Junior was in a fistfight at school, he asks, "You beat his a--?" Junior replies, "Yeah."
Drug and Alcohol Content
We visit Big Meat's drug "factory" several times where men are cutting and packaging cocaine and other drugs. Lucky is seen watching TV with several men, drinking alcohol and using drugs. And several characters, including Coco and Lucky, are seen smoking marijuana.
Other Negative Elements
In order to obtain enough money to buy Junior's freedom, O2 and Coco rob gangs and stage armed bank robberies. They also steal cars and break into a wealthy man's house to "hole up."
In the background behind the main action, there is an effort underway to "clean up" the community and fight the gangs with city officials giving speeches in a local park. But within sight of this event, gang members beat and abduct a man, operating as if the police can do nothing to stop them. And when O2 is faced with the ransom demand for his son, he barely even hesitates to wonder if he should go to the authorities for help. Criminal activity is portrayed as his only reasonable course of action.
Waist Deep is being billed as "Bonnie and Clyde—on the flip side." And, indeed, when a cashier realizes that the man and woman who have just swerved into his gas station are the very wanted O2 and Coco, he doesn't call the police, he asks for an autograph. That's largely why, for all its bicep-flexing bravado and yen to show us the gritty underbelly of the urban streets, the film never rings true.
It feels more like a typical gutter-mouthed action flick on steroids, careening wildly between bloody grotesqueries and teary Vaseline-lensed sentimentality. (Calling it an extended gangsta rap video wouldn't do it any grave injustice, either.) The only spark of authenticity featured here is O2's need to hold and protect the pure love he shares with his son, and Coco's yearning to go to a place where she can forget her past.
We all reach a point in life where we wish for a new, clean beginning. We wonder where to find redemption and how to grab ahold of hope. I saw these characters asking their questions and longed to see them find both physical and spiritual answers. Instead, they force-feed us lyin', stealin', killin' and gettin' away with it as they feverishly fall back on a hollow Hollywood solution: blow things up, blast the bad guy, grab the goods and ride off into the sunset—without your hat.