Freelancers introduces veteran cop Billy Morrison (Matt Gerald). He’s ludicrously racist, to the point where the film almost has to cram to fit in how racist he actually is. There’s a tense stand-off between two local black youth that Morrison responds to, guns drawn, waiting for his chance to fire. In his blaze of racism, Morrison is inadvertently taken hostage until the rookie, Malo (50 Cent), can diffuse the heated scenario.
For Morrison, and the pitbull-owning stereotype, their job is done. Neither is seen again. Freelancers makes a jarring, impossible shift as it locks down the characters. Despite what appears to be a build-up towards inevitable conflict, Morrison is dropped from the script. It’s as if the first half of the movie was a test run to see which characters the audience would stick with, and those unrelatable are dropped. Any leftovers to his bigotry are deleted.
You can piece this script out, watching the likes of Vinnie Jones (yet again in a role barely registering a cameo), one-off veteran cops, and even key characters like AD (Malcolm Goodwin) walking away from their crucial parts. This is a Curtis Jackson/50 Cent film, no one else allowed, and he indirectly seems to be making that decision as the film rolls on.
If Freelancers feels aimless, that’s because it is. Lifelong friends AD, Malo, and Lucas (Ryan O’Nan) join the force with spirited hopes despite a checkered past. They’re brought in the back door so to speak, pushing out on patrols, dealing with crack-addicted or racist superiors, and finding a means to corruption. Drug money is split up between the trio from the grizzled hands of Sarcone (Robert De Niro), and they fall deeper into the seedier side of movie police work. Truth breaks alliances and new ones are formed to necessitate conflict.
Freelancers takes over 50-minutes to set up the narrative framework, padded with extraneous sex scenes, nudity, or mindless foot chases. There are no character building scenes because no one changes. Malo seems as if he’s overcome his past, but dwindles under the minimal peer pressure put forth by Sarcone before his first official day on the job. He plays dirty despite yearning for his father who was killed in the line of duty (or so we assume), disgracing what is billed as clean name.
Fights are clumsy, fake New York (New Orleans is a stand-in) looks hideous on a cramped budget, and character progression is flat. Jackson’s emotional lows don’t show range despite Freelancers counting on his performance, likely as confused by the point of this material as the audience. The scripting is beneath the like of De Niro or Forest Whitaker, even if they’re mild bright spots on a dreadful, dreary film.
Dropped onto video with a contrast that looks as if the film stock was washed in bleach, Freelancers is nothing if not aggressive visually. Maybe “hyper” can properly place the scale of the blazing hot whites which rob the image of fidelity while offering an intense dimensionality that it works too heard to achieve. At some point, it stops being fun.
Hints of slight sharpening increase as signs of aliasing creep in, this in case the dramatic edginess to the film wasn’t a clear enough hint. With the contrast being what it is, it’s hard to keep those edges pure, but that’s making excuses for what’s happening here. Look at one of the opening scenes. Malo is standing in front of a bar making a speech, while the alcohol bottles behind him mush together as one blob of information as the manipulation renders them out of the frame.
None of this seems to be at the hands of Lionsgate; their encode holds down grain consistently with few failures. Extreme levels of tinkering during the digital phase is a more likely culprit. Certainly, these colors were not so extensively saturated out of the gate. While flesh tones maintain integrity, Freelancers skews hot, with a glaze of oranges bulking up the color scheme.
The savior is solely detail, with close-ups high-end performers that drop plentiful high resolution elements onto the frame. It doesn’t stop either, especially for 50 Cent who seems to be lit at all times for maximum sharpness and facial detail. Even medium shots will resonate with appreciable definition despite the glaring quirks.
Surrounds are typically left hanging (literally if you have them mounted to a wall or ceiling) within this mild DTS-HD presentation. Moments of highlights are countable on one hand, and you don’t even need all your fingers. Gunfire is strict, sticking to the fronts to match the camerawork. There’s no reverb, and the LFE doesn’t activate. Chases are decidedly forced into the stereos – if that – and short of some swirling voices before the hour mark, this one is dead.
Any energy comes from the throbbing bass of the hip hop soundtrack, blitzing the low end when called upon while maintaining balance. Elements such as dialogue that need to elevate over the music do so without trouble or volume adjustment from the user.
Director Jerry Terrero and 50 Cent offer their words in a commentary track, this followed by 11 deleted scenes sapping 18-minutes of your time. Behind-the-scenes material is comprised mostly of interviews that dissect the characters and plot. Oddly, there are nine extended interviews, but if you’ve viewed the BTS feature, you’ve see large chunks of them already. Lionsgate crams some trailers on to call it day.
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