In a season dominated by bloated blockbuster wannabes, it's easy to respond to the lean-and-mean B-movie pleasures of Trespass. Directed by the cool-hand action veteran Walter Hill (48 HRS.), from a cleverly structured script by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (Back to the Future), this up-to-the-minute urban thriller a treasure hunt set in a war zone pulls a fast one on its audience right away: Although the publicity has been geared to the pop-gangster appeal of rappers Ice-T and Ice Cube, the movie kicks off as the story of two brawny all-American white guys, Vince (Bill Paxton) and Don (William Sadler), firemen who leave their native Arkansas for the bombed-out ghetto of East St. Louis, where a stash of golden church artifacts lies hidden somewhere in an abandoned factory. Their plan is simple: to find the booty and run. Before long, though, they've been spotted by King James (Ice-T), a drug-syndicate leader, and Savon (Ice Cube), his trigger-happy right-hand man.
Vince and Don are quickly surrounded by hostile, well-armed gang members. They've got protection, though: King James' younger brother (De'voreaux White), whom they've taken hostage. Trespass quickly turns into a high-energy turf war. The entire movie is set within the rotting passageways and trashed, barren rooms of the ancient building, which is used as an apocalyptic labyrinth, rather like the spaceship in the Alien films. For a while, our sympathy shifts to the gangsters. It is, after all, their terrain and for sheer charisma, no one in the movie can hold a flamethrower to Ice-T, who dresses like a dandy (his hair is as carefully coiffed as Michael Jackson's) but spits out his lines with the venomous lisp of an angry cobra. In the end, however, everyone in Trespass is after pretty much the same thing. The good ol' boys want their gold; the gangster businessmen want to be free to sell drugs (just another form of gold). The movie is an inner-city fable about the self-destructiveness of greed, a rap-beat Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Hill directs with his usual kinetic skill and visceral, if inch-deep, sense of character. None of the hot-blooded machos in Trespass does anything terribly surprising, but they go through the motions of fear, fury, and gold-digging fever with terse conviction. There are punchy sideline characters, like Video (T.E. Russell), who films everything with his camcorder (a none-too-subtle reference to the Rodney King incident), and Bradlee (Art Evans), a feisty squatter who is being held prisoner along with Vince and Don's hostage. And though the black-versus-white sociology is never more than a pulp conceit, it's a fairly rousing one.
For all its slash-and-burn virtues, though, there's a problem with Trespass: The movie is so relentlessly paced that it never quite stops to breathe. Must every contemporary action film be an unadulterated ride? This one would have benefited from a few crafty dramatic detours like, say, a scene or two in which we learned something of the characters' pasts. As electric as Ice-T is here, Trespass made me want to see what he'd do with a complexly written role. Hill knows how to zing the audience, and his ''existential'' approach to action remains edgy and enjoyable. But it also seems guided, more than ever, by a blockbuster imperative: Whatever happens, don't let that roller coaster stop. B