Okay, there's nothing here we haven't seen countless times before. Inspired by a true story, In Too Deep follows in the footsteps of Deep Cover and Donnie Brasco in its study of an undercover `tec who finds his loyalties divided between his fellow cops and the crooks he's supposed to bust. But, thanks mainly to a sharp performance from rising star Omar Epps, an excellent turn from rapper-turned-thesper LL Cool J and dynamic direction from Michael Rymer, this compelling melodrama still has much to recommend it.
The likes of Spike Lee and John Singleton have driven down the mean streets of LA and New York numerous times in gangsta outings such as Clockers and Boyz N The Hood. Rymer, however, wrongfoots the audience by setting his story in the unfamiliar surroundings of Cincinnati. In a dilapidated city like this, a charismatic figure like Dwayne Gittens, aka "God", can hold real sway. One moment the man is hosting a Thanksgiving block party or watching his son get christened; the next he's cutting an informer's tongue out.
Last seen as the shark-fodder chef in Deep Blue Sea, LL Cool J brings real fizzle and flair to his avuncular drug lord, capturing the contradictions of a character who can switch from lighthearted wisecracks to murderous rage in the blink of an eye.
Epps too gives a good account of himself as the conflicted hero, who redubs himself J Reid from Cleveland and boasts that "no one can get in as deep as me!" Unfortunately, though, his romantic scenes with Nia Long (Boiler Room) slow the pace down dreadfully, providing an unwanted diversion from the real drama. Still, even though this fails to top Donnie Brasco in terms of deep-cover-cop thrills, it does prove that LL Cool J is showing an ever-increasing ability to carry a movie.