In the late 90s, Saturday Night Live had a recurring sketch wherein Jim Breuer played a half-goat, half-human hybrid host of a fake MTV show called Hey, Remember the 80s?, which showcased has-been musical stars of that decade. Goat Boy’s appearances on the program were always marked by the Punch n’ Judy-style payoff of Goat Boy being tasered by scientists, and by his trademark way of bleating “ei-i-i-i-i-i-i-ghties” like a goat. Arguably, these predictable turns are what made the sketches work, but there was a second level of delight in seeing pop culture that wasn’t that old yet, but was somehow painfully dated. If you remember Goat Boy, or if you just want to remember the 90s, then Belly is worth (what I’m guessing a first) viewing.
Shot on glorious 35mm, Belly is the crowning achievement of the music video director who introduced us all to the shiny-suited rapper. Like some sort of hip-hop Ken Russell, Hype Williams glides his camera through New York, Omaha, Atlanta, and Kingston, Jamaica with juicy visual aplomb, following the criminal conquests and personal revelations of lifelong thugs and pals since childhood Tommy (DMX) and Sincere (Nas). Sincere thinks he’s had enough of the game; Tommy on the other hand devoutly espouses a blend of nihilism and consumerism belying his origins in the projects. Alerted to a new type of super-potent heroin by an MTV News report (read by the droopy Kurt Loder), Tommy expands into the midwestern drug racket, taking the obliging Sincere with him. But as is typical in cinematic tales of criminal swan songs, everything is going great until it isn’t: their self-destructive and selfish behavior catches up with them, spiraling out of control.
But you wouldn’t know how awful everything is from the visuals: nearly every scene (not location, scene) has its own mono- or dichromatic color scheme that fails to reflect anything except its own excess. Shirtless extras smeared with glitter and/or Vaseline strut and shake their asses slow-motion under blacklights with confidence for your pleasure. There’s an inverted Scarface assassination of a druglord, as carried out by a mute Jamaican dominatrix and her crew. There’s also a message of hope (however forced) in the dénouement. Yet somehow more engaging than all of these are the performances—each rapper seamlessly translates his style of rapping into his role, be it the aggressively bouncing DMX, authoritative Nas, or goofy yet deadly Method Man (who does a few Will Smith-inflected “ha-ha”s while infiltrating the whack Omahan syndicate who set up Tommy and Sincere). T-Boz of TLC also really delivers in her small but pivotal role, injecting some everyday feminine power into Belly’s world of overblown machismo. So put away your American Apparel short shorts and oversized tee and slip on your JNCO’s and different, more 90s oversized tee: Belly is very much worth the trip down memory lane.