‘Major League: Wesley Snipes in Focus’
Mar. 31 through Apr. 9
Ingrid Bergman ditched Hollywood for Europe for five years because she fell in love with Roberto Rossellini. Joaquin Phoenix briefly quit acting to fake-become a rapper. Wesley Snipes went to jail. It was “only” tax invasion, but it was enough to throw him away for three years, putting the breaks on a career that was already a shadow of its former self. But what a former self it was.
Throughout the ’90s, Snipes was an action movie god. Many of his posters from the time feature him looking pissed-off, sometimes holding a gun. Sometimes he had funky dyed hair and stared angrily into the eyes of Sylvester Stallone (“Demolition Man”). Sometimes he rocked cool sunglasses, a long trenchcoat and a couple katanas (“Blade”). These were the movies that made Snipes so much money he couldn’t bear giving some of it to the government.
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But there was always more to Snipes. He didn’t become a superstar by playing taciturn killing machines. It was by being a motormouthed, charismatic braggart in films like “Major League,” “New Jack City” and “White Men Can’t Jump.” In between (sometimes) enjoyably Cro-Magnon shoot-’em-ups like “Passenger 57,” “Drop Zone” and “Murder at 1600,” Snipes would nip off to do movies with Spike Lee (“Mo’ Better Blues,” “Jungle Fever”). He’d pop up, uncredited, in “Waiting to Exhale.” He did drag in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” — still one of the craziest titles to ever squeeze onto a marquee.
Snipes could do art house fare and Movies For Guys Who Like Movies, a quality on full display in BAM’s “Major League: Wesley Snipes in Focus,” which grabs many of these titles, plus obscurities like Mike Figgis’ affair drama “One Night Stand.” It even boasts Walter Hill’s “Undisputed” from 2002, which contains maybe Snipes’ last truly great performance to date. Appropriately, it finds him in prison. As one of two boxing champs in jail who've been coerced into a big fight, Snipes lets Ving Rhames play the cocky one, while he retreats inside himself — reserved, thoughtful, concentrated.
Snipes is a free man again, though Hollywood has yet to give him a real comeback. Based on his spirited (if far too brief) work in Spike's "Chi-Raq," we suspect he still has it in him. He should give Woody Harrelson a call.
"Major League: Wesley Snips in Focus" runs from Mar. 31 through Apr. 9 at BAMcineamtek. Visit the site for showtimes and tickets.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge