In Never Die Alone, the rap star DMX has baby-soft eyes that forge a deep connection to every woman he looks at -- and that's something of a feat, considering that his character, a drug dealer known as King David, is perfectly happy to see them rot. With his diamond-stud earring and a smile that's like a private gift, David has so much charm it's easy to get fooled into thinking he's a nice guy. In L.A., where he arrives to launch a cocaine and heroin business, he doesn't just sell the drugs. He uses them to enslave his girlfriends, like the sweet, sexy Juanita (Reagan Gomez-Preston), who goes from aspiring social worker to mottle-skinned junkie in a matter of weeks.
That's an old pimp technique, and there are moments in ''Never Die Alone'' when David's casual heartlessness leaves you recoiling in horror. Working from a 1974 novel by Donald Goines, the director, Ernest Dickerson, proves he's the rare filmmaker who can show the attraction -- and degradation -- of the criminal life without exploiting it. Dickerson hasn't done much of note since ''Juice,'' his 1992 debut, but after more than a decade, you can feel him getting back on track in ''Never Die Alone.'' If the film's best scenes are any indication, he might just be the artist to finally bring the life of the pimp/novelist Iceberg Slim to the screen. That said, ''Never Die Alone'' is only half a good movie. David's grasp for power is an elaborate flashback filtered through the mind of Paul (David Arquette), a timid aspiring writer who, due to circumstances too tortuous to explain, has gotten ahold of David's audiotaped diary. Almost everything that frames the drug dealer's tale is facile and second-rate. Simply put, you don't believe it. What you do believe is DMX's cruel charisma -- the power of a man who acts out his hatred of women by pretending to love them.