Warning! Spoilers Ahead!
Bokeem Woodbine was one of those actors you just recognized in the mid- to late-90s. Seriously, he was in everything: Crooklyn (1994), Jason’s Lyric (1994), Panther (1995) and Dead Presidents (1995) among many others. He looked like he was on the way to being a major star or at least a well-known character actor like Luis Guzman.
In 1998, he even got the lead role in a murder mystery. Caught Up is one of those underrated films that gets lost by the wayside when we talk about black-cast 90s films. I was actually glad to see that, for once, Woodbine doesn’t have to play the psychotic criminal but an anti-hero of sorts. Daryl doesn’t really look for trouble, but it finds him. He ends up doing a five-year stretch when he inadvertently drives the getaway car for his friend Trip’s bank robbery. Ironically, Trip had decided to get the money to help Daryl pay for his dream of opening a nightclub.
After his five years, Daryl is released and tries to get his life back together. He has no hope of seeing his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, Trish, knowing that she has married someone else. Yet, fate takes a strange turn when he runs into Vanessa on his first night out: strange because Vanessa is a dead ringer for Trish. Vanessa also has a second sight. The two leave together and immediately run into trouble when an unknown assailant shoots at them. Shaken up, they make it back to Vanessa’s hotel and well you see where that goes.
The connection with Vanessa appears more than fortuitous when she gets him a job with her friend’s driving service. He ignores shady looking clients who use the service until a special late night assignment puts him in a dilemma. He realizes he is driving with a dead body in the trunk. After managing to make the delivery to a scrap yard, he quits, but an undercover officer Herbert, aka Frank Lowden, he befriended at the job makes him an offer he cannot refuse.
There are other attempts on Daryl’s and Vanessa’s lives and she confesses to him that an ex-lover named Ahmad is targeting her after she ran off with a cache of diamonds they stole from a bank. Then things get worse. Daryl wakes up one morning to find Vanessa bound to the bed with a knife to her chest. Wanted for murder, he runs but realizes that something about the situation does not add up.
This is where things take an odd turn. Daryl realizes that Frank was somehow in cahoots with Vanessa. Why reveal himself to Daryl to keep him at the job? He trails Frank and has his suspicions confirmed: Vanessa is still alive. Trish was murdered in her place to frame Daryl. Unfortunately, Ahmad and his gang catch up with Vanessa and Frank and a bloody shootout ensues. Guess who ends up the only survivor.
At this point, we see that the entire story is actually unfolding as Daryl recounts it to his parole officer Jake. But Jake points out an inconsistency: the first attack on Daryl and Vanessa occurred before Ahmad and his crew would have tracked Vanessa. Has someone else has been stalking Daryl? This is the twist that actually adds a little topping to the cake here.
Overall, Caught Up a nice modern film noir. I’m sure many people turned away from this film as one of many “urban” dramas of the late 90s. However, the story is coherent and there is a good supporting cast including Cynda Williams, Clifton Powell and Tony Todd. Star Trek fans may recognize Jeffrey Combs who appears briefly and LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg have a couple of extended cameos. Overall, this is a good one to watch if you want to see film noir with a black cast.