Waist Deep

Tyrese Gibson as an ex-con trying to go straight who must rob banks in order to raise the ransom money to free his son from a South Central gangsta played by rapper The Game? Do I smell Oscar?!

It’s called “Waist Deep,” and my, is it ever a deep waste. Gibson plays an ex-con named Otis, who goes by the street name O2. He explains that back when he was a gangsta, he could go into a neighborhood and “set it off” (i.e., start trouble; commit a crime) and vanish into thin air, thus earning the name “Oxygen.” Then, he says, he did this sort of thing SO MUCH that they had to call him “Oxygen 2,” or simply “O2.”

Alas, before he could hone his setting-it-off skills enough to become O3, he went to prison and is now a reformed man, caring for his young son Junior (H. Hunter Hall) and working as a security guard. One day when he’s late picking Junior up from school, the boy asks, “If nobody came back for me, what would happen?” O2 replies soberly, “I’ll always come back for you.”

That sort of dialogue is movie shorthand for “You’re about to be kidnapped,” and sure enough, a thug carjacks O2 without realizing Junior is asleep in the back seat. O2 can’t go to the police because he’s on parole, and in the process of pursuing his son’s abductor he sorta fired a few shots at a few people with a gun that he’s not supposed to have. So, you know, whoops.

Left to take matters into his own hands, O2 joins forces with Coco (Meagan Good), a stolen-goods hustler who agrees to help him on the condition that he help her get out from under the thumb of P-Money. As luck would have it, Junior is now in the possession of Meat (The Game), whose chief rival in the thuggery business is the aforesaid P-Money — which means if O2 can set the two factions against each other, it will solve both his and Coco’s problems (or maybe just get everyone killed).

Meat (who is evil in the classic Bond villain sense, at one point cutting off a subordinate’s hand more or less for the fun of it) thinks O2 has $100,000 of his money from back in the day, and thus demands that sum for ransom. Since O2 doesn’t actually have this money, he and Coco get the brilliant idea of robbing banks to raise it. They also break into a mini-mansion whose owner is on vacation and use it as their base of operations, I guess because O2’s apartment wasn’t nice enough.

Written by Vondie Curtis-Hall and Darin Scott and directed by Curtis-Hall (“Gridlock’d,” “Glitter”), the film is a witless urban drama that’s too serious for its own good and that never met a cliché it didn’t like. It also suffers from a serious lack of chemistry between supposed love interests Tyrese Gibson and Meagan Good — heck between Tyrese Gibson and anyone, since he refuses to smile, emote or display any other trace of humanity.

Furthermore, while the carjacking scene is shot and edited tensely, the rest of the film meanders carelessly, eventually rambling on for a full 25 minutes after the crisis with Junior is resolved. Come on, guys. If there’s one thing I learned from my hard life growing up on the mean streets, it’s when to end a job and get the heck out. That’s why they call me Oxygen. That, and I like watching that women’s cable channel.

C- (1 hr., 37 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, some graphic violence, brief moderate sexuality.)