Eager to avoid pigeonholing after Menace II Society, Allen Hughes and Albert Hughes step out of the 'hood and into an ambitious 1970s period piece for their follow-up. But Dead Presidents suffers from the generalizing that detracted, albeit only slightly, from their provocative and unsettling debut. The directors take on way too much by putting their characters through Vietnam, the Black Panther movement, family dissolution, and drug abuse, all to work toward a slickly choreographed heist that doesn't materialize until the waning moments. The result is a meandering tableau of the black experience during five tumultuous years of American history, in which many topics are touched upon, but few explored. A case is made, but poorly supported, that the government turned these men into emotionless warriors and left them to fend for themselves upon their return, and that this phenomenon afflicted black veterans with a particular callousness that engendered criminal behavior. But the before-and-after doesn't jive with this idea; Larenz Tate and Chris Tucker were small-time troublemakers with hazy futures prior to enlisting, and the sadistic killing machine played by Bokeem Woodbine actually reforms himself into a priest upon arriving home. The Hughes brothers shoot the film with pizzazz, particularly the stylish hold-up, featuring the characters in stark whiteface. The acting is strong, with comedian Tucker showing a noteworthy facility for drama. But the unwieldy story ultimately neutralizes the brothers' obvious gifts as directors. They would take a six-year break from fiction filmmaking before going in a totally different direction with the Jack the Ripper costume thriller From Hell (2001).