With his writing-directing debut, "The Players Club," Ice Cube pulls off a mighty seduction, with a fiery climax to boot. Inside the club of the title, Cube and his director of photography Malik Sayeed construct a vivid realm around female protagonist Diana Armstrong (Lisa Raye), who under the stage name Diamond turns to exotic dancing in order to make ends meet.
Newcomer Raye is engaging and versatile, but doesn't yet have the chops to hold down her scenes in Cube's winding tale. Similarly, the script moves in a lot of different directions, perhaps too many at the expense of the main plot. Still, "Players Club" weaves many different threads successfully, from the course of Diana's troublesome cousin Ebony (Monica Calhoun) through the club, to the travails of its owner Dollar Bill (Bernie Mac) with his loan shark, St. Louis, and around other interesting characters as well. Cube moves measuredly, and only sometimes tediously, over these parts of a solid screenplay.
As an actor, Ice Cube has improved his own range so far as to inhabit whole psychic fields at certain points. His presence in the smoky club as patron Reggie carries some scenes entirely with a dazed cognizance. Reggie is a misogynist imp (Cube typecasting himself), who drums up wicked cadences in an atmosphere dank with male aggression. Still, this is a woman's film. Girls call most of the shots. Girls kick ass. Diana surpasses her vile situation, proving herself to be a diamond in the rough.
With assured direction and unsparingly realistic writing, Ice Cube makes good on the promise of his acting debut with John Singleton. "The Players Club" is an auspicious first film from a voice that needs to be heard from -- more.
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