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Thursday, March 4, 2010 01:03 am

Snipes on the comeback trail with Brooklyn’s Finest

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Wesley Snipes with Brooklyn's Finest director Antoine Fuqua

From looking at actor Wesley Snipes, you’d never be able to tell he was on the last leg of a cross-country trip that took him to one major city a day over a week’s time. After hitting Washington, D.C., Atlanta and other cities you’d think he’d be ready to pack it in when he visited Chicago recently on the last stop of the tour. Instead, the beleaguered movie star was in high spirits – in fact, he was almost giddy – as he discussed his latest project, Brooklyn’s Finest, a movie that may very well put Snipes back on the minds of moviegoers and on the casting lists of Hollywood studio executives. Perhaps the response from audiences who’ve seen the film is what had him in good sprits. “I don’t know who got paid to tell us they like it, but so far the response has been great,” he says.

Finest is the sort of gritty urban drama filmmakers Sydney Lumet and Martin Scorsese would make with regularity in the ’70s. Snipes is right at home in this gripping film as Caz, an ex-con who’s back on the streets after serving seven years behind bars. Trying to acclimate to a world that’s changed dramatically, the drug dealer relies on his close friend Tango (Don Cheadle) to show him the ropes. What Caz doesn’t know is that his comrade is a New York cop, charged with taking him down.

Made on location at the notorious Van Dyke projects and at other points in Brooklyn, Finest was shot in a remarkably fast 41 days on a miniscule budget of $17 million.

Shooting fast and on the cheap was an adjustment for all involved, but making the film on location proved to be an unexpected boon. “Being there gives you so much organic material to draw on,” says Snipes. “I grew up in the Bronx and Harlem so I have some familiarity with the rhythms of the place and I think that was important in making Caz authentic. Having the people from the ’hood there, watching you film a scene, they were my first critics and they told me when what I did worked and when it didn’t.”

Invariably, this film will be regarded as Snipes’ comeback project. Having been demoted to straight-to-DVD action fare and being convicted of income tax evasion in 2008 (a ruling he’s presently appealing), the actor has been ignored by major studios in recent years. Snipes is fully aware of the status of his career as well as the importance of Finest to him at this juncture.

“I’d say it is a comeback to good quality work and quality talent, people who really care about the craft,” says the actor. “I love doing action films and I’ve been trying to elevate the quality of them by bringing some drama and character development to them, but that usually falls on deaf ears. But this was a great opportunity to come back and get an opportunity to work with an ensemble, which took me back to my theater days. Really, it was a test to see if my skills are still on par. I had no problem playing the supporting character. I think that’s a good way for all actors to see where you’re at because you can become lazy always being the star. You can develop a lot of bad habits. It’s like a fighter or an athlete; you have to be around those at the top of their game so that you can measure yourself against them.”

Then he flashed a wide smile. It’s obvious Snipes is happy to be back in the game.

Contact Chuck Koplinskiat ckoplinski@usd116.org.