- Movie Rating -

Street Smart (1987)

| March 20, 1987

It is amazing how these things work out.  I just wrote my review of Hollywood Shuffle and noted that most of Hollywood’s popular African-American actors are being cast as crooks, thieves, pimps and killers, at least the ones who aren’t Eddie Murphy.  Now here’s Street Smart which issues me a challenge.  Morgan Freeman, one of our most intelligent actors occupies this film playing – what else? – a violent street pimp.  The performance is brilliant but how could I back out of my objections?  Well, I can’t.  I have to note how good his work is while also acknowledging that he is playing to a stereotype.  I’m not sure how to deal with this.

Street Smart is one half of a brilliant movie with the other half being a standard thriller complete with a happy ending.  The good half features two good performances.  One come from Freeman as Fast Black, a pimp whose personality seems wrought from Jeckyll and Hyde.  At one moment he is easy-going, friendly and learned, but he can turn at a moment’s notice into a man of violence and fear, and even at these moments he keeps his voice at an even manner of fearsome calm.  It is an incredible performance.  It is an incredible performance, one that has earned him an Oscar nomination.

The other less flashy role comes from Kathy Baker as one of Fast Black’s prostitutes.  She’s a girl from middle America who has been caught up in this profession but sees no way out for herself.  Yet, you sense that she hasn’t been in it long enough for it to rob her of her humanity.  She wants out, but she sees few options for herself, nor a way to get away from her pimp.

I so wish that the movie would clear out the clutter and just let us deal with these two characters.  They’re so interesting separately and apart that it is too bad that we have to sit through and intrusive plot that is so underwritten and not thought out.

It involves a magazine reporter (Christopher Reeve) who builds a fictional story about a violent street pimp which is published and makes such a splash that the local D.A. suspect that the pimp in the story might be Fast Black who is on trial for murder.  From that, we spend a lot of time following Reeve trying to get notes on the story in order to make it legit.

Personally, I cared nothing for this.  Reeve’s story seems to come out of one of those movies-of-the-week that turns up on CBS that nobody is really watches.  It is unfocused and badly written, and frankly I didn’t care because the larger story of Freeman and Baker felt like a page out of real life.  The two sides really don’t fit together.

But coming back to Freeman.  I liked his performance but I can’t pull away from my objections.  It is too bad.  Here is an actor who could be playing lawyers and surgeons and the President of the United States.  He carries himself with an intelligence and a presence that draws you to him.  That’s what makes his performance as Fast Black so interesting.  I’m just hoping that this isn’t the only kind of role that he can get.  He’s great here but he can do so much more.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Drama