Thursday, April 24, 2008

Prisoner 57

After years of litigation and fighting, everyone's favorite daywalker, Wesley Snipes was sentenced in US District Court to three years in federal prison for tax evasion. Now I just took criminal law this semester but that seems unduly harsh for three misdemeanor counts. There must have been some serious "history of contempt over a period of time" as the judge stated, that warranted throwing the book at him. Of course maybe you're asking for it when you rely on reputable character witnesses like Woody Harrelson in attesting for leniency. Frankly though I think this may be partially another case of the system keeping a brother down. Now where will we turn to for our prominent black action heroes? Michael Jai White? Denzel Washington? Will Smith?

One thing's for sure, if his movies are any indication, Wesley will do just fine in the clink. Pick any movie at random from his prolific filmography and there's a pretty good chance he is either playing a criminal or a law enforcement official (or a law enforcement official who is thought to be a criminal). Sure there are some major outliers like "Major League" or "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" but his Dennis Franzian proclivity towards cop roles seems only matched by his proclivity towards robber roles. Playing rightous authority figures is obviously part of the territory of being an action star but you don't see all that many roles as the "heavy" in the resumes of white action heroes like Stallone or Schwarzenegger or Willis. I'm sure someone could probably write an interesting essay about racial representations and action movie roles; someone that isn't me.

I will however take a look at some of Snipes' notable cinematic conflicts with the law and see how they stack up to his current situation (spoilers a plenty!):

New Jack City

The crime: As bad as trying to cheat the government out of millions of owed taxes is. I think it pales in comparison to running an ultra-violent, high tech crack dealing empire. Snipes' ruthless drug kingpin Nino Brown was about as cold blooded as they came; whether it was destroying the lives of countless addicts, participating in brutal gang wars, turning on your best friends, or using little girls to shield yourself in gunfights.
The sentance: After eventually getting caught, (by the dynamic duo of Ice T and Judd Nelson no less!) Nino turns state evidence and pleads out to what appears to be something around 12 months (a lot less than three years). However, he receives a must stiffer sentence in the court of public opinion when one of his earlier victims shoots him as he leaves the courthouse.

Demolition Man

The Crime: Snipes' Simon Phoenix actually turned out to be even worse than Nino. Reaching a level of evil bordering on super villainy, Phoenix was a sadistic, psychotic, criminal mastermind who ruled the chaotic streets of Los Angeles in the late 90s. There are countless murders, assaults, larceny, etc., etc. including blowing up a bus full of hostages which framed Stallone's character.
The Sentence: Phoenix was cryogenically frozen in suspended animation for an indefinite period of time, which I guess is a bit worse than 3 years in the can. He did get plenty of combat training while frozen in ice so that's a benefit. He was eventually unfrozen early, 36 years down the line to commit more crimes, until he was administered some rough justice by the also recently dethawed Stallone, getting frozen and decapitated.

U.S. Marshals

The Crime: After being pulled over for a routine traffic accident it is revealed that Wesley Snipes' Mark Warren is actually Mark Roberts, a wanted federal fugitive accused of murdering some government agents. As he's being transported by Tommy Lee Jones, the plane crashes and he escapes leading Mr. Jones to again issue searches for outhouses and doghouses, etc.
The Sentence: Shockingly enough it turns out Snipes was framed (you know Tommy Lee Jones' character doesn't seem to be fazed that that most of the people he's chasing are usually innocent) by double agent Robert Downey Jr. no less! After completing a series of action sequences he is officially exonerated.

The Crime: Promising prize fighter, Snipes, caught his wife in bed with another man and, being the amazing fighter he was, involuntarily beat him to death. Although this crime of passion would probably fit the lesser charge of manslaughter, Snipes is unfortunately railroaded on first degree murder charges.
The Sentence: When the movie starts Snipes has served 10 years of a life sentence. He is also the "undisputed" prison boxing champion who suddenly finds himself challenged by Ving Rhames, a Mike Tyson-like champ who recently got incarcerated for rape. Snipes ends up winning the fight and Rhames' only consolation is later getting paroled and resuming his lucrative championship boxing career. Snipes is still in jail but I guess he's "undisputed" for whatever that's worth.

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