Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I remember when I was a little kid and there was a show that was on called ‘Baby I’m Back’, not to be confused with the Sir Mix-a-lot song ‘Baby Got Back’, no that’s something altogether different.  This little show featured Demond Wilson of Sanford and Son fame who abandoned his family and was absent for seven years for what I believe were gambling debts.  So he shows up days before his wife was going to declare him as dead so she could marry this fine upstanding Army officer and totally wreaks havoc on her life and the lives of their children, one of whom was played by Kim Fields by the way.  This was seventies Black comedy folks.  The disturbing thing about this show, and so many black themed shows after that, was that the Demond Wilson character was the ‘cool’ guy.  Yeah, he abandoned his family, gambled away their money, still gambles as a matter of fact and has no discernible means of employment, but he’s the guy that we’re supposed to root for. The wife’s upstanding, job-having, upwardly mobile fiancée on the other hand is a ‘square’.  He’s uptight, talks all proper-like, can’t get a joke and is a total buffoon.  What a wonderful message for an 8-year old Black boy to receive.

Director Pete Chapman’s first feature ‘Premium’ is the story of struggling actor Reginald ‘Cool’ Coolidge (Dorian Missick) who lives with his mom, drives a huffy, pumps gas at his mom’s boyfriends gas station and is selfish and loathing.  His ex fiancée Charli (Zoe Saldana) shows up in town after three years with her new fiancée, a somewhat buffoonish divorce lawyer played the talented, and underrated Hill Harper.  Now as this plot device played out, I’m thinking to myself… no, begging myself that Pete Chapman ain’t going there.  Anywhere but there brother.  Dammed if he didn’t go there.  Now ‘Baby I’m Back’ is an extreme, and ‘Premium’ doesn’t come close to ridiculousness of that little seventies setback, but the similarities are there nonetheless.

Chapman’s film starts out similarly to Robert Townsend’s ‘Hollywood Shuffle’ as we witness Reginald try out for one stereotypical part after another, with the parts being played out in his mind.  Of course he never gets the parts and his life continues to spiral into nothingness, until his ex-girl Charli shows back up in town.  Now ‘Cool’ is going to pull out all the stops to let this woman know what a mistake she made those years back, and the mistake she’s making now as he goes all out to win back her heart.  Or something.

Now I had some issues with this film, but none of those were with the cast as Chapman was able to get some top notch talent to be in his film.  Dorian Missick is a guy who I’ve seen in numerous films and shows without actually knowing his name, but always making point to say ‘I like that guy’ because he has a very smooth, has an easy acting style and is quite the comedian to boot.  Hill Harper is a supreme talent and doesn’t get nearly the credit he’s due as an actor and Zoe Saldana, who is already two steps ahead of the game by being tall, slender and gorgeous, adds to this trifecta by being a very good actress as well.

But the problem that I had with the movie is that Missick’s ‘Cool’ is so unlikable and such a slacker that it’s near impossible to have any kind of warm feeling towards the character.  When ‘Cool’s’ mother informs him that she and her beau are moving, he’s upset with them because they didn’t consider where his thirty year old ass is going to live.  His future step father paid for his education, and lets him eat his food for free, requiring only that he works at the gas station.  He can’t accomplish this simple task, and after he gets fired and gets the job back, nary a thank you is heard.  His list of social transgressions continue to mount, but yet it appears the character never learns from any of his severe flaws.  It’s completely impossible, at least for me, to identify with this kind of character, let alone root for the bastard.  To that effect, Saldana’s Charli simply does things that I would imagine a woman about to marry in ten or so hours simply shouldn’t do.  I certainly hope that my wife wasn’t having candle lit wine sipping escapades with her ex-lover while slow dancing to their ‘song’ the night before I was slated to throw my life away.

Ultimately, there was something inherently disturbing about ‘Premium’ that I just couldn’t shake.  It’s as if Chapman is saying stay true to only yourself and damn everyone else where your goals are concerned.  Because if you ignore everyone else around you and concentrate on total selfishness, it will all turn out damn near perfectly for you in the end.  Just like a really bad seventies sitcom.

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