Thursday, 12 November 2009
ORIGINAL GANGSTAS (1996)
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Aubrey Rattan
Starring: Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pan Grier & Richard Roundtree
Part drama, part exploitation, part action, Original Gangstas is a thoroughly entertaining slice of urban action that reunites some of the greats of the old school Blaxploitation era. Williamson (The Destroyer), Brown (One Down, Two to Go), Grier (Foxy Brown), Roundtree (Shaft) and even Ron O’Neal (Superfly) join forces to rid their hometown of invading gangs made up of violent young yobs. It’s old versus young as the ‘original gangsta’s’ show the modern hoodlums (well, mid 1990s thugs) who’s boss.
Ace writer/director Larry Cohen (of It’s Alive and The Ambulance fame) directs with gusto keeping the exploitation nature of the subject and the hard violence bubbling along but also finding time for some quality drama and character interaction. Seeing the likes of Williamson, Brown and Grier do their thing is great but they all get ample opportunity to stretch the acting muscles as well. The interaction they have with one another, reuniting in their home community after many years away, provides some solid character development and shows the easy going nature the actors (hopefully and assumingly) had with one another. Their characters and interaction is also a nice counterpoint to all the loud mouth swearing of the young gangster characters, perhaps over egging their tough act a little bit. Still the young cast are satisfyingly nasty meaning they deserve their comeuppance when the ‘old’ crew starts dishing out the vigilante justice.
The action may be a little sloppy and unfocused at times, but it still hits hard and there is enough firepower dispensed come the final half hour to feel like the Original Gangsta’s stepped up to the plate and did what they needed to do. Williamson and Brown get ample chance to dust it up in several bare knuckle fights, Grier also dishing out the pain with only Roundtree (the original Shaft no less) unfortunately and mystifyingly sidelined for most of the film. However, Williamson, Brown and Grier have a nice rapport and everything seems to have been shot on the real streets of where the flick is set (Gary, Indiana) which give proceedings a little more authentic bite.
Reportedly Williamson wasn’t happy with the final film (he produced it through his company) which caused a rift between him and long time collaborator, Larry Cohen. Shame, as though it’s a little dated, it's still some of the best work the two have done, and a cool slice of urban action. Also look out for appearances from genre stalwarts Paul Winfield (The Terminator), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Wings Hauser (Mutant) and Charles Napier (just about every B-movie under the sun).