After the first scene, in which gang banger Zooman (Khalil Kain) awkwardly addresses the camera, we were not surprised to find out that Zooman is based on a play by Charles Fuller. Zooman, a young black man who is the catalyst for the story, talks to the camera periodically throughout the film. Sometimes it's interesting; sometimes it's pretentious and unrealistic.
Fortunately, Zooman's internal/external monologues aren't the body of the film. One morning he instigates a wild shootout on a crowded street, accidentally leaving a nine year-old girl, Jackie, dead on the front steps of her parents' brownstone. Zooman makes a run for it, leaving behind Jackie's mother, Rachel (Cynthia Martells), and her brother, Victor (Hill Harper, whom last we saw screaming in fear at the visage of Pumpkinhead II).
Jackie's father, Rueben, is played by Louis Gossett Jr., who probably took time out of filming Iron Eagle IV: Too Cheap for a Subtitle to make this made-for-Showtime movie. Rueben, a former boxing star who now drives a city bus, is estranged from his wife. But when their daughter dies, Rueben moves back in with Rachel, at least temporarily. Despite their grief, they are angered at the fact that no one in the neighborhood will give a description of the killer. Rueben finally takes matters into his own hands by posting a sign in his window, accusing his neighbors of withholding information. The remainder of the film follows the lives of the family members and their neighbors as tensions rise.
Martells and Gossett as Jackie's parents.
Zooman is certainly the most serious film we've ever watched for the Month of Z, and it also has the best actors. Removed from the penny-dreadful backdrop of the Iron Eagle franchise, Gossett is often a sincere and powerful actor, as he is here. His portrayal of an angry, grieving father trying to overcome his doubts about himself is a highlight of Zooman, especially because it is accompanied by similarly professional performances. Martells' Rachel may not be particularly likable as the clingy and fearful mother, but she is realistic and manages to project some strength through the tears.
The most touching and underplayed performance, however, was that of Jackie's brother, Victor. Victor is in a tough spot: torn between his need for revenge, his desire to protect his family, and his parents' admonitions against further violence, he alternates between lashing out, questioning everything in sight, and merely shaking with anger and grief. It's a hard act to pull off, but Harper makes it work.
Obviously not a part of
the Neighborhood Watch program.
Disbelief came to us only during Zooman's solo diatribes, which are directed towards the audience. Zooman kills in cold blood and more or less at random, and tells us repeatedly that he doesn't care. Then, when Rueben's sign inspires action on the part of the police, Zooman complains that he "can't even go home to his family." Why would a killer, who claims that he killed "that little bitch 'cause I felt like it," care about going home to his family? At one point Zooman even lapses into self-loathing, complaining that his girlfriend isn't taking care of her son properly, and that he doesn't want the kid to end up like him. Nice sentiments, Zooman, but what about the nine year-old girl you gunned down at the beginning of the film? It's a little late to be concerned about kids now.
Whether Zooman is lying to his audience, or to himself, or to the world, his statements are confused and conflicting. Is he truly unrepentant, or just trying to blow off his own guilt? This character is too complex for the message to come through properly in these 95 minutes, especially when so much screen time is shared with the family whose lives he has devastated. Perhaps this back-and-forth dialogue worked better on the stage, where Zooman was born.