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Violent and slick 'Shottas' lacks perception and a pulse

Here's the thing about movie gangstas: They never let us in. Their days are spent scheming, killing, hot-tubbing, and counting their money, but who, really, are these drug-dealing stripper fondlers and Escalade drivers? Any dreams (beyond "Scarface"), regrets, or facial expressions? Have they ever been lonely? Who pays the phone bill? And do they buy their long white tank tops from J.C. Penney like the rest of us?

"Shottas," a slick but dull new shoot- ' em-up from Jamaica, doesn't penetrate the mysteries of high-rolling, high-risk thug life. It perpetuates them. In the local patois, the title means "gangsta," and that appears to be the most aspired-to occupation. As a kid in the Kingston slums, all Biggs wanted was a gun and a trip to America, which, as a grown - up , he gets -- sort of.

Played by Ky-Mani Marley, one of Bob's kids, Biggs moved to Miami, where he made and lost a dirty fortune. Fresh from jail, he heads back to Jamaica for the first time in 20 years to start over. He hooks up with his boyhood buddy, Wayne (the dancehall star Spragga Benz), one of the biggest shottas in town, and trouble begins. Sorry -- the trouble continues. (Biggs has been shooting people for no good reason since he was a potbellied urchin.)

Since Cess Silvera's movie -- it's his first and it shows -- is one long anticlimax, no particular death appears to mean anything to anyone. Even after Wayne's brother is assassinated, revenge is the closest anyone comes to an emotion. Jumping between Jamaica and Miami, "Shottas" is an inept slew of point-blank murders and sloppy shoot-outs. And, except for a last-minute cameo from Wyclef Jean, who really ought to know better, the living seem indistinguishable from the dead. Biggs's big sex scene is steamy only because it happens in a shower. Even the house parties and Jacuzzi soaks seem like tales from the crypt. The most exciting image in the whole movie is Marley's upper-arm tattoo of his dad.

Otherwise, "Shottas" is a light-year behind thoughtful, socialist-minded Jamaican classics such as Perry Henzell's "The Harder They Come" from 1972 and Ted Bafaloukos's "Rockers" from 1978 . The defiant ache and socio-economic neediness in the reggae of those two movies are missing from "Shottas," which dutifully follows the blueprint for capitalist hip-hoppery. There's no Robin Hood here, just a lot of hoods.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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