Monday, February 15, 2010

Film Review: STREET SMART (1987, Jerry Schatzberg)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Morgan Freeman, Christopher Reeve, Kathy Baker (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS), Andre Gregory (MY DINNER WITH ANDRE), Jay Patterson (MCBAIN), Rick Aviles ('Rat Man' in THE STAND), Erik King (Doakes on Showtime's DEXTER), Mimi Rogers (WEDLOCK, THE RAPTURE), Leslie Carlson (VIDEODROME). Music by Robert Irving III and Miles Davis.
Tag-line: "Everything you say can and will be held against you."
Best one-liner: "I will show you the streets, man."

Whenever Cannon pulls off a genuine prestige picture, I feel as if it's like your zany kid brother inexplicably made the Honor Roll and you're like 'How the eff did he pull that off?' cause he spent all semester breakdancing in the lunchroom, eating Charles Bronson's ice cream confections, and palling around with Michael Dudikoff. The only real 'Cannon elements' are the sheer audacity, the number of references to shoving objects up asses, and the (Miles Davis + slap-happy bass synths) soundtrack.

And maybe a few of the costumes.

Regardless, Palm d'Or winner Jerry Schatzberg (SCARECROW, THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK) and writer David Freeman (THE BORDER) assemble a first-rate critique of modern journalism, which, with uncommon evenhandedness, eloquently tackles issues regarding race, sensationalism, the educated elite, and the justice system. The performances are top-notch: Christopher Reeve as the wanna-be muckraker whose high-horse is a bit shorter than he'd like to believe;

Morgan Freeman as "Fast Black," the volatile pimp who'll affably share a Yoo-hoo with you one moment,

then smash it and jab its shards into your neck the next;

Erik King as Fast's quiet, brutal lieutenant (in a belly shirt and visor sunglasses); Andre Gregory as Reeve's douchey, elitist publisher ("Your moral courage sells magazines!" is his patronizing reassurance); Kathy Baker as a likable, defiant hooker (in a nuanced and astonishingly realistic performance);

Jay Patterson as a determined District Attorney; and a macabre bit part by Rick Aviles as Solo, the pimp ("I'm the only man you're gonna need...Don't lie to Solo."). There are all sorts of wonderfully orchestrated awkward moments, both in terms of comedy (Reeve's worlds collide when Fast attends a high-society soiree) and suspense (Reeve trapped in a car beside Fast as he threatens to slice up one of his ladies),

and the denouement (involving a descent into manipulation and 'Gotcha!' journalism) does not disappoint. Four stars. To the Go-Go boys, I say: Fine work.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Oh wow, I haven't thought about this film in years. Who woulda thought that Christopher Reeve would star in such a gritty film? Good one for Morgan Freeman too. Man, he scared the crap out of me when I first saw this film.

I'm a sucker for films about journalism and reporters and this one's a keeper for sure.

Sean Gill said...

And I love that SUPERMAN 4 was the price Reeve was willing to pay to make STREET SMART...

I'm a sucker for the journalism stuff as well- and I really need to see Flynn's BEST SELLER soon, as per your recommendation!

J.D. said...

Yeah, BEST SELLER is a keeper. Another one I'm thinking of tackling soon is THE MEAN SEASON featuring Kurt Russell as an investigative journalist playing cat and mouse with a serial killer!

Sean Gill said...

Wow, I might just have to check out THE MEAN SEASON also- it looks like a damn good time.