Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Allow me to first congratulate Detroit born writer / director Mark Cayce for what he was able to accomplish with his film ‘Forbidden Fruits’. Shot locally right here in the Detroit Michigan area, a spot that can use all the help it can get, Cayce rounded up some well known Hollywood talent such as Keith David and Ella Joyce among others, brought them out to the D, shot his movie, completed his movie – which is very important - and also showed the city of Detroit in its best light with it’s beautiful classic Palmer Park homes and stunning skylines. Where I come from, we call that good lookin’ out. I just needed to make sure that all of that was known and that we are all quite proud of a local boy done good, however with all of that said, it is now out of the window because the fact that I recognized most of the landmarks in the movie has no influence on my opinion of the movie.

Cayce stars in his film as the character of Marcus, the son of a powerful and wealthy preacher and as he narrates, a man who is on the road to destruction. We first meet Marcus cruising around the D with his cousin Brian (Fredro Starr) when they see some brother pumping gas at an Ay-Rab (their words, not mine) gas station. Apparently Marcus’ old man owns a gas station across the street and this man is showing extreme disloyalty in his attempt to save 2 cents a gallon by pumping the competitor’s petro which causes Marcus and Brian much displeasure. For his two cents in savings this dude gets the crap beat out of him which doesn’t please the good Reverend Walters (David) or his wife Mrs. Walters (Joyce). For a little historical breakdown Marcus hips us as to where a lot of this angst towards the Muslim Arabs and the Christian Chaldeans originates from, with the gist of it being that Middle Easterners operate the vast majority of liquor stores and party stores in the hood, making themselves rich off the disenfranchised while also taking advantage of the women of these disenfranchised individuals while at the same time greeting those who would date their women with hostility and violence.

With the groundwork of the story laid, the problems start as we meet pretty college student Nicole (Taral Hicks) and Marcus’ baby sister who is dating the Lebanon born Muslim Abe (Tamer Werfali) which of course causes conflict. Then there’s Cousin Brian who’s dating a Chaldean-American girl which is causing some conflict, especially considering that her brother is a violent psychopath and has the brutal Jade (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) as his right hand man, and has also let it be known that he will kill her if he finds out she’s dating a black guy. There’s Abe’s sister who’s is rebelling against Islam and is hanging out with her fast Mexican friend and dating white guys which has her scared to death because apparently Abe has let it be known that he will kill her if he finds out she’s dating a white guy. There’s also a subplot involving Marcus and local gangster Terrence (Keith Sweat) with Marcus being involved in stuff that he probably shouldn’t be doing, and there’s another subplot involving Reverend Walters and his attempts to buy a supermarket but is running into interference from Chaldean corner store mogul Sonny, who happens to be Amina’s father I think, who as we already know is dating the Rev’s nephew Brian. I think that’s it even though there’s probably more.

There are problems with ‘Forbidden Fruits’ with probably the number one problem being that this movie is literally all over the place. There are so many characters and so many plot lines and so many sub-plots that it’s damn near impossible to keep track of it all. Then don’t forget to remember the history lessons that Cayce tosses in that you have to retain which ultimately makes attempts to keep track of all that’s going on in this movie almost like playing mental ‘Whack-a-Mole’. Because of the large number of characters and plot points in this movie and the films relative brevity at around 100 minutes, some these plot points never get resolved and a lot of the characters never get fully developed, and because the film was jumping around from point to point it never gathered a solid rhythm or a pulse that could have created the feeling of a smoothly flowing narrative.

The performances were a mixed bag with veterans Keith David and Ella Joyce doing fine jobs with their characters as you would expect, Ferdro Starr was way less irritating and almost engaging as the character of Bryan and Taral Hicks is tall dark and stunningly beautiful. Hicks, Starr and Cayce all seemed a bit too long in the tooth to be playing young college aged students, but we’ll let that slide. The biggest surprise was song meister Keith Sweat who was pretty darned entertaining as the thug / criminal Terrence. Didn’t know that the old dude could halfway act. Where most of the African American actors were seasoned pro’s, the majority of the Arab American actors where unknowns and it showed especially when compared to the likes of David and Joyce. They all looked great but they didn’t deliver their lines with the same confidence or believability as the actors they were working across from.

On the plus side the soundtrack had some nice songs and Cayce shot Detroit in such a loving and beautiful way that I almost didn’t think that this was the same city in which I live. In addition to the positive way that Cayce filmed the city, the production values were also were high for this film and didn’t fall into some of the amateurish pitfalls that some other lower budget independent dramas often succumb to.

Though ‘Forbidden Fruits’ is a flawed movie, severely so in some parts, it managed to get us talking about certain things once we finished watching it because Cayce did infuse a lot of truthfully painful and difficult elements into his movie. Would this be the case for somebody not intimately familiar with the subject in the way that Detroiters and its surrounding area residents are? That I don’t know, but it does raise some issues. ‘Forbidden Fruits’ has its problems, but we still salute Mark Cayce for the effort he showed in getting his project realized and bringing it to the finish line.

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