Original Gangstas (1996) – Review

1 Star

Prolific B-movie scribe Larry Cohen is the man behind this nod to the Blaxploitation era of drive-inn cinema. Headliners Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, and Jim Brown are together on-screen for the first time in two decades, this time battling vicious street gangs who’ve murdered Grier’s son and attempted to kill Williamson’s father. It’s a strictly B-movie affair and you’d expect nothing less (or more?) from the names listed in the above paragraph. While I typically enjoy Cohen’s scripts, I prefer the films he doesn’t personally lens. The stifled settings, static camera, and terribly directed action scenes are evidence of the aging cast and low-level production.

A young man with a basketball scholarship to UCLA hustles a member of the notorious gang, the “rebels”, in a pick-up game of hoops. He’s then gunned down in a drive-by shooting outside of a local market. The owner of the store, Mr. Bookman, reports the license plate to the authorities. This act of lawfulness is seen as betrayal by the sadistic members of the rebels. They attempt to murder the elder man and claim his market for themselves.

That is until John Bookman returns to town. The former NFL standout comes for retribution seeking to punish the gangsters. Laurie (Pam Grier) is the grieving mother of the slain athlete, the boy’s biological father Jake (Jim Brown) shows up in time for the funeral and to help his old buddy, John, hunt down those responsible for the bloodshed.

“Gang movies” were very popular in the nineties. Street gangs became the go-to bad guys for urban action thrillers for a long time. These pictures are usually accompanied by a forgettable hip-hop soundtrack and feature at least one current (at the time of filming) rap star. Original Gangstas follows that playbook religiously and the results are predictably under-whelming. Although, all three leads still display tremendous charisma and make the film watchable. Still this should have been a rip-roaring entertaining B-movie, instead it’s a slow-moving retread of plot points from the star’s earlier flicks mixed with sociopolitical messages of peace and unity. You’d be better off watching almost any of the actual movies being ripped off here.

Director: Larry Cohen
Stars: Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier

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