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by: Michael Dequina

The title In Too Deep describes the situation its young undercover cop hero finds himself in, but it also aptly describes the predicament of the film's cast. An uncommon amount of talent appears before the camera, but their abilities are not well-served by this routine urban drama.

Two actors are able to transcend the tired material they are given: the leads, Omar Epps and LL Cool J. Epps plays the cop, rookie Cincinnati police officer Jeff Cole, who loses his sense of self during a deep cover operation designed to bust druglord Dwayne Gittens, a.k.a. "God" (LL Cool J). Epps makes a strong and likable protagonist, and as such his character's flirtings with the dark side makes for some involving drama. However, LL Cool J is the more commanding presence as God, at once cold yet so appealingly charismatic that it is easy to see how people are drawn to him.

But director Michael Rymer and writers Michael Henry Brown and Paul Aaron don't give their equally able supporting players much to work with, largely due to the formulaic paces of their story. Stanley Tucci has the token commanding officer role, and his meatiest scene is the old reliable one where he tells the increasingly out-of-control Cole that he is off the case. (Of course, Cole eventually worms his way back onto it.) Nia Long is wasted in the most thankless role of Cole's love interest, who, as par for the course in films such as these, tells Cole that she can't be with him as long as he's on his case. And Pam Grier, whose memorable turn in Jackie Brown apparently wasn't the career-ressurrector it should have been, lends her steely presence and is required to do little else as a veteran cop.

In Too Deep isn't necessarily a bad film, just an average one, and therein lies the big problem. With the amount of talent at their disposal, the filmmakers should have been more motivated to come up with something a bit more inspired and distinctive. Instead, they simply settled for the routine--something that the cast shouldn't have to settle for.

RATING: ** 1/2 (out of *****)


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