Even when it misses a dramatic opportunity in favour of generic action, Set It Off
benefits from a sharp understanding of its well-drawn central characters. They're a quartet of young African American women in Los Angeles (Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise), all struggling against a system that seems designed to prevent them from realising their dreams. The movie establishes their plight with credible attention to emotional detail, making their decision to rob banks believable enough to give the ensuing plot its inevitably tragic momentum. Co-written by the screenwriter of What's Love Got to Do With It?
, the film conveys genuine compassion for its characters, and the ensemble cast is uniformly strong, especially Queen Latifah as a brash lesbian whose fate is as certain as her forceful attitude. Set It Off
expresses a real sense that these women have been close friends for years, and that gives the film additional impact, even when their transition to crime and violence feels somewhat forced and superficial. A romantic subplot involving Pinkett and a social-climbing banker (Blair Underwood) is too contrived to be convincing, and director F. Gary Gray (Friday
) tries too hard to combine hard-hitting action with social relevance (a weakness shared by Gray's following film, The Negotiator
). Still, Set It Off
effectively avoids passing judgment. Its emotional complexity transcends simple notions of right and wrong, injecting vitality, and a kind of renegade integrity, into the traditions of a familiar plot. --Jeff Shannon
Four women take the law into their own hands and try to get some pay-back by robbing the city's biggest banks in this riveting action drama starring Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise and Blair Underwood.