approximately 6 minutes and 46 secondsMacy Gray plays Neisha, the best friend of Vicki (Vanessa Ferlito, entirely adequate here) who happens to be wife/girlfriend/babymama of an evil crime boss, Clayton (Stephen Dorff, doing his now-patented sleazy-sexy-crazy schtick with clarity and verve).
roughly 7% of film's total running time
roughly 7% of film's total running time
Ostensibly, Gray's Neisha marks the only connection Ferlita's Vicki has to the world outside Clayton's criminally decadent bubble. (The first shot we see of Clayton's mansion foregrounds a zebra grazing, it seems, on the grounds. Hmmm. A zebra. Perhaps a symbol of Clayton's awry opulence? Possibly a synecdoche of the film's ambivalent fascination with the psychological dimensions of interracial romance? Either way -- that's a zebra. On the lawn). Yet, while Neisha seems to be in the film to provide some emotional mooring for Ferlita's Vicki, neither the screenplay nor Gray do much with the character. She's brash; she's bold; she's sweet; she's trashy. Indeed, while her pregnant best friend's locked in a crimelord's giant house, Neisha's always a little bit drunk/high, mushmouthedly chattering about finding herself a man at Ladies' Night.
When Vicki disappears -- see, Dorff's Clayton took out a contract on his pregnant wife, which hired killer Rose (Helen Mirren in an utterly befuddled performance) is unable to execute because her late stage cancer has instigated a spiritual crisis of sorts -- Gray's Neisha arrives to the estate, demanding to see her friend.
After pounding, kicking and shrieking at the security system, Gray's Neisha confronts Dorff's Clayton directly about how badly he treats her friend. Meanwhile, Clayton's pretends to be the grieving husband, plying Neisha with promises of Pina Coladas if only she will come inside.
In a rare moment of clarity -- albeit filmed in closeup as a slapsticky sequence of double-takes -- Neisha realizes that Clayton only wants her inside so he can kill her, and with comic clumsiness (intentional, I think), Neisha hightails it away from Clayton's exotic estate.
Unfortunately, Neisha's lucidity doesn't last long and she's soon caught in Clayton's murderous web again. This time, however, another of Clayton's hired killers (Cuba Gooding Jr, as Mirren's stepson, lover, and partner in contract killing) seduces Gray's Neisha easily at the strangest nightclub I have seen onscreen in some time.
Gray's Neisha -- apparently perennially intoxicated -- thrills at the prospect of this handsome, glamorous, hunky black man plying her and her tranny friends (!) with booze. She sloppily agrees to take this "superstar" back to her place (another astonishing moment in art direction).
There, Gray's Neisha dies a simple, mildly ignominious death as Gooding's Mikey coaxes her gently through her convulsive passing.
Gray's performance is vivid and memorable, while also being only nominally coherent and virtually unintelligible. The singer's signature vocal slur reveals just how unhelpful the generally ponderous dialogue actually is. (Gray's slushy mumbling also inadvertently demonstrates how the performances by Dorff, Ferlita, Gooding and Mirren, as well as Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Mo'nique, might actually be fairly accomplished, as the words very nearly make sense when they say them.) But Gray's performance depends almost entirely on her formidable presence -- and utter believability -- as a clownish trainwreck. If Gray's Neisha is the only person looking out for Vicki, then Ferlita's character might just be lucky to have been adopted by these codependent, neo-incestuous contract killers after all. But perhaps the worst part about Gray's Neisha is that no one seems to care. About either the character -- Ferlita's Vicki never inquires about her best friend, nor does she ever discover Neisha's death or Mikey's role in it -- or about the novice actress's performance -- director Lee Daniels seems to have merely trained his camera on Gray to watch her flail in the role. As best as I can tell, the film seems content to busy itself concocting a lurid amalgamation of post-Freudian incest tropes and interracial depredations and, in so doing, utilizes Macy Gray's Neisha mostly as a memorable red herring (much like the zebra on the lawn). Indeed, the casual disregard for both the character and the actress evocatively demonstrates (though only in retrospect) that this film only looks like a noirish puzzler when it's actually a high-concept explication of strange domestic fantasies.
At least that's my best guess. I still have no real idea. Any help from y'all -- either in making sense of Gray's performance or the film as a whole -- will be gratefully appreciated...