Last year, Netflix entered into an exclusive agreement with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment, giving the streaming-video site first crack at any new titles released by the production company founded by the entertainer and her business partner, Shakim Compere. Among its earlier releases, Flavor Unit produced “Beauty Shop” (2005) and the TV movie “Steel Magnolias” (2012), an African-American remake of the popular 1989 tearjerker.
I recently took a look at the first two Flavor Unit films to hit Netflix in 2013: the mystery/slasher flick “House of Bodies” and the urban crime drama “Percentage,” a double feature made watchable by the films’ short running times. (Back to back, the movies clock in at only 160 minutes — 20 minutes shorter than “The Wolf of Wall Street.”)
“Percentage” is the clear winner of the two, with strong, entertaining performances by rapper/co-screenwriter Cam’ron Giles and Omar Gooding (Cuba Jr.’s little brother) as a pair of fugitives from the New York law who end up running a credit-card skimming operation in Florida. In a nod to Latifah’s female-empowerment roots, Macy Gray plays crime lord Mama Cash, with a cowboy-hatted Ving Rhames making a funny cameo as her six-shooter-wielding henchman. Though obviously made on the cheap, and with choppy direction by Alex Merkin, the film — which includes plenty of sexual objectification along with Gray’s girl power — doesn’t take itself very seriously, and neither should you.
If you have to skip one of the films, make it “House of Bodies.” Ostensibly “starring” Terrence Howard and Peter Fonda as a detective and a serial killer, the film mostly takes place in a group house, where a cast of 20-something nobodies is being stalked by a killer who seems to have copied the M.O. of the murderer played by Fonda. Also directed by Merkin, the film is sluggish and unscary.
If there’s a reason to watch “Bodies,” it isn’t for the nudity and blood — both of which are plentiful but ho hum — but for the relationship between a hearing-impaired teenager (Harry Zittel) and the young woman he meets in a serial-killer-themed video chatroom (Alexz Johnson). Latifah makes a couple of brief appearances in a minor role, but like Howard and Fonda’s, her appearance seems calculated to capitalize on her name, not her acting.
Both films riff on tired genre cliches. It’s pretty obvious that Merkin has seen a lot of good movies in his life, though it’s not yet clear if he’s able to make one. Flavor Unit certainly has done so in the past. Here’s hoping that Netflix gets a few of them.
“Percentage” (82 minutes, containing violence, obscenity, drug content and nudity) and “House of Bodies (78 minutes, containing violence, nudity and obscenity) are unrated. Both films are available through Netflix; “Percentage” is also available via Amazon Instant.