5 March 2006 | ruffrider
Bad boys, bad cops, decent movie
This movie brings to mind "Boys 'n the Hood," "Menace to Society," "South Central" and others of its ilk and even shares actors with some of them. The film's "us vs. the law" mentality is underscored by the all-black neighborhood vs. the nearly all-white police force. Here the cops are so bad they seem like caricatures and in one scene they even ambush the boys as they drive by in a car they've just "liberated" from its owner. It's like a bushwhacking from an old Western, but the contemporary setting makes it look all too real.
The story centers on young Jason Petty and his buddies, to whom school is just an inconvenience that takes time away from their "real occupation" of boosting cars. This happens to be Newark, N.J., a rust-belt city low on jobs but notoriously high on crime. In fact the problem is so severe that the cops all have "Car Theft" written on their backs, to show that an entire unit must be devoted to this particular crime.
The boys use a "slim Jim" to gleefully break into cars and go joy-riding, as if it's no big deal. They only run into real trouble when the police ambush them. The vicious, Nazi-like Lt. has a vendetta against the boys, seeing them not as human beings who might be worthy of redemption, but as human targets. In fact, he's a little reminiscent of that sadistic Nazi officer of the Warsaw ghetto, who shot down Jews for pleasure in the film "Schindler's List." When the boys steal a police car in retribution for the ambush, things predictably go downhill fast. They are severely beaten by the cops and Jason finally ends up in prison. Clearly these are "bad boys," who'd steal your car in a minute, but the film wants us to see them as anti-heroes, showing Jason protecting his sister and his friend taking care of his own grandmother. The film left us wondering whose side to take and who to feel sadder for: the boys whose lives are going down the drain, the honest citizens whose cars are being stolen left and right and who could be caught in the crossfire of a shootout at any moment or the city of Newark itself, the spirit of whose law is being betrayed by brutal, soul-dead cops.
In spite of the over-the-top portrayal of the latter, the film offers a realistic-looking rendering of the ghetto, of the protagonists and their families and of the culture of car theft in a city where there appears to be only 2 career paths - law enforcement and crime. Strangely, the entire subject of drugs is never mentioned.
The filmmakers (including producer Spike Lee) are obviously biased against the Newark police, who, we hope, are not as bad they are portrayed here. Nevertheless, they've given us yet another a strong, affecting story about the inner city and black youth gone awry and Sharron Corley is fine as Jason.