Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Q (Omar Epps), Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), and Raheem (Khalil Kain) are best friends growing up in Harlem. Like most teenage boys, they spend time getting into mischief, skipping school, and talking about girls. Besides the occasional shoplifting of LPs to feed Q’s interest in DJing, the boys generally keep themselves out of trouble, and their only grievances are the racist convenience store owner, as well as the police and a neighbourhood Puerto Rican gang whose leader, Ramades (Vincent Laresca), take special interest in harassing them.
Bishop decides that their crew doesn’t have enough street cred and the only way to earn respect is by staging a heist, specifically robbing Mr. Quiles’ (Victor Campos) convenience store. Q hesitates to go along with the plan but finally gives in and, using his DJ battle as a loose alibi, the group robs Mr. Quiles’ store. Bishop, who had the gun, uses this opportunity to also kill the man. This is enough to wake everyone else up. The four run to an abandoned building and Q, Raheem, and Steel are livid that Bishop actually killed someone, Raheem most of all. During a tussle after Raheem demands that Bishop hand over the gun, Bishop kills him as well.
Bishop threatens Q and Steel into silence, and now he has the juice, all of the power. The two become terrified of Bishop and how unstable he’s proving to be. At school and on the streets, he seems to always be watching, making sure that they keep their mouths shut. It seemed that the first murders either awakened or revealed Bishop’s inner violent sociopath and he becomes a one-man reign of terror, with Q and Steel both privately mourning Raheem and trying to stay out of his crosshairs.
When he realizes that Bishop has no limit and must be stopped, it’s up to Q to make sure that the threat which has emerged in his former friend is contained. Complete with a killer soundtrack and cameo appearances by 90s hip hop royalty, like Queen Latifah and Treach from Naughty by Nature, this film grabs your attention.
Juice is part crime thriller, part coming-of-age story. But most of all, it’s a lesson. Being friends with someone for a long time only means you’ve been friends a long time. A friendship devoid of sincerity, affection, trust, and respect is no friendship at all. Bishop is the quintessential friend whom your parents warned you about, and for good reason. To a person like this, friends aren’t people with whom you share common interests, but expendable tools, pawns on a chessboard. Learning when to let go of a toxic friend is the ultimate lesson here.
I give this one 5 stars.