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Expatriate Returns for ‘Dangerous’ Fight

FOR THE TIMES

OK, let’s get this straight. The sometime rapper, sometime actor Ice Cube is cast as a onetime member of the South African resistance who left his homeland for Los Angeles at age, let’s say, 12. Returning on the occasion of his father’s funeral, he addresses his relatives--all of whom speak in high-toned English--in a diction straight off the streets of South-Central L.A.

Assimilation is one thing, but what Ice Cube’s character Vusi has accomplished is a tour de force of linguistics and cultural accommodation.

This is not noted in order to make fun of someone’s speech patterns, just to mark the glaring unlikelihood that someone who left one country for another at such an advanced age would have also left his native accent, or his native character for that matter, so far behind. At the same time, this is hardly the most incredible aspect of “Dangerous Ground,” which transplants a rather standard drama from the ‘hood to post-apartheid South Africa. The lesson: with freedom comes responsibility.

So does movie-making, but as long as we’re asking for miracles, why not try for an explanation for why Elizabeth Hurley, playing the exotic dancer Karin--who’s also the girlfriend of Vusi’s crack-addict brother Steven (Eric Miyeni)--makes her first appearance bursting through a door in a T-shirt and leather bikini briefs, with a beautiful tousle of hair and her Estee Lauder undisturbed? There must be an empowerment lesson here someplace, but I was distracted.

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Together, Vusi and Karin search for Steven, who owes a big pile of drug money to Muki (Ving Rhames) but can’t get off the pipe. Vusi, who represents moral vigor and strength--a refreshing change for the way Americans abroad, even immigrant Americans, are usually portrayed--raises the cash, which doesn’t prevent a full-scale blood bath intended to drive home the ideas that liberty costs and that all Africans are brothers.

This is a vanity production for Ice Cube--a really convincing actor even when he’s growling, but who’s in distinct danger of becoming one-dimensional. He gets to strut his stuff while Hurley struts hers, and together with Sechaba Morojele (who plays Vusi’s other brother, Ernest), they compose a kind of nouvelle Mod Squad, dedicated to the good fight in a South Africa going American. It’s a posturing film that’s boring in its indignation, and marks a real come-down for director Darrell Roodt, who made the heartbreaking “Cry, the Beloved Country,” which concerned the same geography, but a world view several light-years away.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, drug use and language, and for some nudity. Times guidelines: Drug content and violence make it unsuitable for younger audiences.

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‘Dangerous Ground’

Ice Cube: Vusi

Elizabeth Hurley: Karen

Sechaba Morojele: Ernest

Eric Miyeni: Steven

Ving Rhames: Muki

A Gillian Gorfil/Darrell Roodt production, Ice Cube/Pat Charbonnet production, released by New Line Cinema. Director Darrell James Roodt. Producers Gillian Gorfil, Darrell Roodt. Executive producers Ice Cube, Pat Charbonnet. Screenplay by Greg Latter & Darrell Roodt. Cinematographer Paul Gilpin. Editor David Heitner. Costumes Ruy Filipe. Music Stanley Clarke. Production design Dimitri Repanis. Art director Emelia Roux. Set designer Ninon De Klerk. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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