Snipes actually refers to those record-label handbills you see plastered up and down phone poles and across storefronts, although the term's origins aren't explained. High school class-cutter Erik Triggs (Sam Jones III) picks up "Snipes" as his nickname for his energies at putting up posters for Ill Wax Records, and he's especially motivated by the rhymes of Prolifik, an up-and-comer in Erik's native Philadelphia.
But when Erik innocently shows up at a recording studio after hours, he gets a vicious education in the music industry's seedy underbelly and finds himself on the run from real gangstas.
Snipes can be cinematically primitive and has laughable plot points, like Zoe Saldana's comely, pistol-packin' record exec. But in a year filled with blaxploitation homages like Undercover Brother, Snipes director Rich Murray genuinely taps into the spirit of the '70s Afro-American action genre films. The fashions aren't as fancy but Snipes has the same kind of low-budget, street-level excitement, fueled by catchy music and effectively pulpy suspense scenes.
Snipes benefits enormously from the casting of "Oz's" Dean Winters as Bobby Starr, the sadistic, double-crossing head of Ill Wax, who bullies the helpless while cowering at the thought of his mafiosi bosses. While torturing Erik, Starr casually brings up the knife-to-the-face scenes of earlier, better films (Snipes makes a few movie references too many), and his profanity isn't always credible: Does anyone in real life ever use the epithet "fucko"?
Nelly makes Prolifik a convincingly erratic, bad-tempered antagonist, while Sam Jones commands our sympathies as Erik. We pity his disillusion at his music-industry idols while admiring his ingenuity at using digital cameras, caller I.D. and paintball guns to outwit the rival groups of thugs. Snipes treats the hip-hop industry in a similar way as its approach to the Philadelphia locations, showing affection for its subject while finding the ugliest faces of the city of brotherly love.