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Film / Menace II Society

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"Went into the store just to get a beer. Came out an accessory to murder and armed robbery. It's funny like that in the hood sometimes. You never knew what was gonna happen, or when. After that I knew it was gonna be a long summer."

Menace II Society is a 1993 urban drama directed by the Hughes Brothers (in their debut). Along with Boyz n the Hood, it is one of the defining films of the early '90s and helped popularize the urban crime drama.

The story centers around a street life thug named Caine and his friend O-Dog living in the streets of Watts. Caine is a thug with a heart, and the opportunity to succeed, if the streets will let him. With a father that dealt heroin and a mother who was addicted to it, he had no chance as a child, and went to live with his grandparents. After graduating high school, a feat that none of his friends pulled off, he had choices to make, and although his heart was in the right place, he was stuck in the wrong time. Watch as he struggles with car jackings, murdered friends, taking care of a single mother and her son, and a question that burns in the back of his mind, asked by his grandfather. 'Do you want to live or die?' is the simple choice his grandfather put out to him...but the answer doesn't come until it's too late.


This film provides examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: Including Caine.
  • Arc Words: "Do you care whether you live or die?" Several characters ask Caine this question (or a variation thereof), and he's honestly not sure.
  • Asian Store-Owner: The opening scene features Caine and O-Dog stopping by a convenience store to get some beer. The Asian store owner and his wife treat them with such suspicion and rudeness that O-Dog snaps and murders them both.
  • Ax-Crazy: O-Dog.
  • Berserk Button: O-Dog might have spared the Asian Store-Owner (keyword being might) if he hadn't said he felt sorry for O-Dog's mother.
  • Bloodier and Gorier / Cluster F-Bomb: More so than in Boyz n the Hood.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The surveillance tape of the armed robbery eventually comes back to bite O-Dog when Chauncey releases the tape to the police as revenge against Caine—who escapes arrest only because he is murdered before it can happen.
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  • Crapsack World: Watts, Los Angeles. It is not a lovely place, at least in this film. It is a district, as a whole, full of drug addicts, immorality, crazy and violent gangsters, and gang-wars.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Illena's cousin's mission to confront Caine ends in him getting the ever-living crap beat out of him.
  • Darker and Edgier/Spiritual Antithesis: This film is far more violent, dramatic, downbeat, darker and edgier than Boyz n the Hood. The film has almost no lighter moments, mainly for the ending. ALL in this film is Played for Drama. Both films chronicle the struggles of the ghetto. But While John Singleton's film followed Tre, a decent kid who ultimately stays straight and escapes the hood, Menace follows one of the many youths who succumb to the streets and don't make it out. The Hughes Brothers wanted their film to sort of be the reverse side of the coin that we saw in Boyz.
  • Dead All Along: Caine is narrating the film beyond the grave, as a cautionary tale to others.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Happens in this scene during a domino game in which Stacy asks about what happened between Caine and Ronnie:
    Stacy: Let me guess: You was up in there knocking it out, huh?
    Caine: Stay out of my business, Stace.
    Stacy: How?
    In the Bowdlerised TV version it's "Playing House."
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Caine is a bloody mess, literally gasping out his final breaths, as Stacy holds him helplessly, urging him not to go.
  • Downer Ending: By the end, Caine wishes to straighten his life and start anew by going to Atlanta. However, he gets into a fight with Ilena's cousin, which reaches back to his grandparents, who promptly kick him out of the house. On the day he's meant to leave, the cousin gathers a bunch of cronies and do a drive by, promptly killing Caine—as well as Sharif. The latter was going to Kansas himself and spent most of the film preaching about the Muslim religion in an effort to turn his friends' lives around.
  • Dying Dream: At the end of the film, Caine himself is thinking about his life as he lies there dying, and it's at this point that we realize (if you consider this interpretation of the film) that the entire film we've just seen has been Caine's life passing before his eyes, as he lies dying.
  • Establishing Character Moment: See the quote below. This is all the excuse O-Dog needs to murder the convenience store owner and his wife. The first moment (of several) showing O-Dog is a completely murderous psychopath who will kill anyone, anytime over anything at all.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: "What the fuck did you say about my mama?!"
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even A-Wax is stunned by O-Dog's sociopathy when O-Dog shoots the beggar for offering food in exchange for sexual favors, then offers the dead man's food bag to his friends.
  • Evil vs. Evil: It's a film of Gang Bangers and DirtyCops in a Crapsack World. What did you expect? The white morality is almost nonexistent here.
  • Famous Last Words: "My grandpa asked me one time if I care whether I live or die. Yeah, I do. And now it's too late."
  • Faux Affably Evil: O-Dog himself could be, because during the film, he gets several Kick the Dog moments.
  • Gangland Drive-By: The main character is killed in a drive-by shooting at the end.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Stacy.
  • Gorn: Even by the standards of an urban drama, the violence is extremely graphic.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: O-Dog, who could accurately be described as a black, slightly more trigger-happy version of Tommy DeVito. After killing the said Asian Store-Owner couple mentioned above, he steals the surveillance tape and proudly plays it for his friends on numerous occasions, much to Caine's chagrin.
    • Caine's father is this as well, shooting a man who owes him money when the man comes up short and insults him.
  • Hate Sink: A lot given the setting.
    • O-Dog stands out as the most psychotic, sadistic and unlikable of the bunch. He's a toxic friend to Caine who doesn't respect his desire to leave the ghetto behind and start anew, embraces his own violent side and actively brings out the worst in Caine. He also has no morals or common sense to hold him back from being a horrible person. He really drives this point further when he kills an innocent Asian store owner and his wife for making an off-hand comment about his mother and then shows the surveillance tape to his friends for means of entertainment. He later kills a drug addict for not paying his debts and steals his food.
    • Chauncey might not be as sociopathic or sadistic as O-Dog, but he certainly lacks in terms of loyalty and competence. He is a complete prick to everyone around him and a lazy, irresponsible and unambitious idiot whose botched hijack attempt on a car has both Caine and O-Dog arrested. He later harasses Ronnie in front of her child and Caine which gets him beaten up and as means of getting back at his friends, he sends the videotape of O-Dog whacking the Asian store owner to the police. It's no wonder why no one of his friends really like him.
    • Caine's father is this as well for his terrible upbringing on Caine and being a trigger-happy sociopath who kills people in poker for little to no provocation. Needless to say, he was not a good role model.
    • The rival gang members after brutally killing Caine's cousin for no reason after stealing his car. Later, they are seen bullying and harassing a female hot dog cart worker.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Caine does at least manage to save Anthony during the drive-by shooting.
  • Hollywood, California: Specifically, Watts.
  • Hood Film: The story centers around a gangster named Caine and his friend O-Dog living in the streets of Watts. Caine's father was a drug-dealer and his mother was a Junkie Parent, so he was sent to live with his grandparents at a young age. Caine's the only one of his friends to graduate high school, but he still ends up on the criminal path.
  • Idiot Ball: O-Dog constantly shows the videotape of him robbing the liquor store to his friends for entertainment. This ends up getting him arrested at the end, thanks to Chauncy showing the tape to the police. Caine told him to stop showing that tape.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Caine's mentor Pernell approves of him leaving with Ronnie. Considering Pernell is serving life without parole, there isn't much he can do for her and their child.
  • Jerkass:
    • All of the gangsters are remorseless when it comes to living their criminal life, but O-Dog and A-Wax stand out as the biggest of them all.
    • Chauncey probably takes home the blue ribbon here. He's unpopular (and barely tolerated) by his associates; lazy; gets Caine and O-Dog arrested with a sloppy car theft plot; sexually harasses Ronnie (in front of her child and her boyfriend), and finally seals O-Dog's fate by sending the videotape to the police. In other words, he's an absolute bastard.
    • You can see that even the police that are around in Watts are not nice guys, which only further drives home what kind of place Watts is.
    • Caine's father fits the bill.
  • Karma Houdini: Ilena's cousin and his gang who shot Caine and one of his friends, Sharif in a drive-by at the end of the film.
    • A-Wax also counts.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: O-Dog, who is arrested in the end of the film due to the videotape he kept.
    • Chauncey getting the living crap beat out of him by Caine was something he had coming for a while.
  • Letters 2 Numbers: Obvious.
  • Lunatic Loophole: Almost every main character, sympathetic or not, dies by the end... except for O-Dog. Though at the least, he does get arrested, so that's something.
  • Malcolm Xerox: Sharif, though he's not depicted badly - he's just disregarded by his troubled criminal friends. Although there's a lot of cynicism that can be picked up from the way he is written, especially how other characters treat him (even his dad!).
  • Name of Cain: The main character is a hood guy named Caine. While he's not as bad as his Ax-Crazy friend O-Dog, he still can't escape the culture of violence. The facial scars he gets as the film progresses also allude to the mark of Cain.
  • Oh, Crap!!: The Korean store owner after O-Dog confronts him for saying he felt sorry for his mother. His voice is full of panic and worry when he says “I don’t want any trouble” just before O-Dog shoots him.
    • When the detective catches Caine changing his story during the interrogation and tells him “You know you fucked up now. You know that right?” The look on Caine’s face says it all that he fucked up!!
  • Only Sane Man: Stacy, Sharif, and Caine are this often, at least compared with other gang members. Caine's grandparents as well.
    • Sharif and Stacy seem far more reasonable than their friends.
  • Pet the Dog: The Latino gang that finds Caine and Sharif lying on the ground after being beaten up by some cops drive them to the hospital instead of finishing them off like the cops expected.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Caine does this to beat a drunken Chauncey for sexually harassing Ronnie.
  • Police Brutality: Apart from the archival footage of the Watts riots in the beginning, a pair of cops randomly arrest Caine and Sharif, beat them in their car, and drop them off in a Latino neighborhood so the Latino gangs can rough them up more. Luckily, the gang that finds them just takes Caine and Sharif to the hospital.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Besides the above Police Brutality incident, many characters are thrilled by the tape of O-Dog killing the Asian Store-Owner, and O-Dog himself is a homophobe who kills a beggar offering food for money when he asks for sexual favors as payment.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Caine was raised by his grandparents after his father (a drug dealer) was shot to death and his mother (a crack fiend) died of an overdose. It's clear that they can't keep him from getting involved in the thug life, and Caine's grandfather eventually evicts him from their home.
  • Reality Ensues: Being shot in the lungs is not a nice way to go. Caine discovers this the hard way when Ilena's cousin and his friends use his chest as a shooting range, and leaves Caine laying on the ground, gasping for air and choking on his own blood in the most excruciating way possible.
    • Caine during the interrogation scene without a lawyer present or even asking to speak to lawyer and the detective is able to take him apart with ease. Although it’s justified on Caine’s part because this was his first arrest and nobody ever taught him how to conduct himself in that type of situation.
  • Scary Black Man: The quietly terrifying detective played by Bill Duke. Chauncy is this to Nick, the guy who gives him info on the car that he hires Caine and O-Dog to steal.
  • The '70s: Only taking place in Caine's flashback at the beginning of the movie.
  • The Sociopath: O-Dog and A-Wax.
    • The gangsters who killed Harold and wounded Caine.
    • Caine's father as well.
    • The two racist cops who beat up Caine and Sharif.
    • The whole film does a good job of depicting an environment so wretched and hopeless for so long, it actively creates people like this.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Chauncy. After getting pistol whipped by Caine for sexually harassing Ronnie, he decides to show the videotape of the Korean store robbery to the police, which ends up getting O-Dog arrested.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The Korean store clerk, who feels the need to insult O-Dog's mother, which gets him (and his wife) killed. No one could predict O-Dog would murder them for a comment, but O-Dog wasn't exactly hiding how unstable he was, and comments like that just add fuel to the flame.
    • The man that owed Tat money, who felt the need to disrespect him (even at gunpoint).
    • Harold, who tries to reach for a gun while being held at gunpoint by one of the carjackers.
    • Caine becomes this at the end when he tries to shield Anthony from the gunfire of Ilena's cousin and his gang, despite the fact that they weren't even shooting at Anthony in the first place.
  • Villain Protagonist: O-Dog and A-Wax. Caine also counts to a certain extent.


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