by HELEN GEIB
Next Day Air is an ensemble piece revolving around a mis-delivered shipment of cocaine. The story takes place over three days, supplemented by a few flashbacks, and follows five groups connected in some way to the cocaine. Events are set in motion by a Mexican drug lord and his lieutenant, who ship the cocaine to the Philadelphia apartment of a Puerto Rican man, their Philadelphia distribution agent, and his girlfriend. The drugs are shipped by the invented UPS-like service Next Day Air, a poor choice of vendor.
The pothead deliveryman, stoned as per usual, delivers the box to the apartment across the hall. It’s occupied by a pair of thuggish small-time criminals who decide to sell the drugs to one’s cousin, a local drug dealer who brings his right-hand man along to make the deal. Everyone ultimately comes together for a shootout at the criminals’ apartment, an event foreshadowed in the film’s opening scene.
I categorized the film as a comedy because I think that’s what it’s meant to be, albeit a dark one as befits the subject matter. I didn’t actually find it comical, darkly or otherwise; I never laughed. The experience of watching Next Day Air reminded me greatly of watching the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, another comedy I just didn’t find funny. In both cases, you need to be attuned to the filmmakers’ sensibilities to enjoy the films, and I was not.
Next Day Air reminded me of Burn After Reading in another way as well: I never felt drawn in by the story because I never cared about what was going to happen to any of the characters. With nine principal players and a few supporting ones besides jockeying for space in a 90-minute movie, there isn’t room to really flesh out any of the characters. Backgrounds and personalities are sketched in effectively– each person is distinct– but any further character development is sacrificed to maintain the balanced ensemble, short-time frame narrative structure. And as the characters range from unlikeable to detestable, sympathy never substitutes for development.
While I wouldn’t recommend Next Day Air, neither would I try to dissuade anyone from seeing it. This is a serious-minded film with a powerful, organic anti-drug message. Drug use and the drug trade are seen as destructive of the mind, aspirations, friendship, family ties, and community life. Brothers, cousins, and close friends betray, mistrust, repudiate, and drift apart from each other to feed addictions and score “easy money” from the trade. I don’t know if Philadelphia was chosen as the setting because of the irony implicit in identifying these people and this story with the City of Brotherly Love, but I strongly suspect so.
Donald Faison (TV’s Scrubs) headlines the cast as the deliveryman. Mos Def appears briefly as the deliveryman’s friend and fellow driver; presumably he was attached to the film to help secure financing. The other principal parts are played by Mike Epps, Wood Harris, Omari Hardwick, Emilio Rivera, Darius McCrary, Cisco Reyes, Yasmin Deliz, and Lobo Sebastian. The film was directed by Benny Boom and written by Blair Cobbs.