(Sun. (8), 10 p.m.-12 a.m., Showtime) Filmed in Toronto by Robert Lawrence Prods. and Van Peebles Films. Executive producer, Robert Lawrence; producer-directors, Mario Van Peebles, Melvin Van Peebles; co-producer-writers, David Fuller, Rick Natkin; camera, Rhett Morita; editor, Bill Butler; production designer, Rocco Matteo; art director, Terry Wareham; sound, Thomas Hidderley; music, Larry Brown; casting, Beth Klein, Alysa Wishingrad. Cast: Mario Van Peebles, Josh Brolin, Melvin Van Peebles, Cynda Williams, Stephen Lang, J.T. Walsh, Sean McCann, Zach Grenier, Bruce Smolanoff, William MacDonald, Peter Kosaka, Kendrick Davis, Brent Schaefer, Sandi Ross, Jerry Hewitt, Michael Tough, Michael Copeman, John Friesen, Pedro Salvin, Jessica Moyes, Michael Filipowich, Colin McClean, Karen King, Lisa Vitello, Joel Gordon, Jason Vitello, Marylu Zahalan, Craig Eldridge. It’s gang time within a police precinct as the Phantoms , a secret group of thugs in blue, sustain a white supremacy mode. The worthy subject is not exactly a revelation, but it bears retelling; too bad the teleplay by David Fuller and Rick Natkin is so simplistic and the production itself so obvious. Michael Rhoades (Mario Van Peebles) knows that, as a black cop, he’s not the precinct’s pinup boy, but he tumbles to the real truth the hard way. Fuller and Natkin let truths eke out, and Rhoades moves from plot point to plot point.
As co-directors, Peebles and his dad Melvin Van Peebles apply speed and pressure, but it’s familiar territory. An incident at a Chinese eatery opens the action and Rhoades’eyes to civilian treatment. The Bund tries eliminating him because he’s curious and black. He calls on his FBI ex-girlfriend Anita (Cynda Williams) to help expose the ring, but she’s into other things. The Phantoms, practicing their excesses in everything from drug busts to gambling raids, have their own secret clubhouse. Gang members are led by Moose Tavola (Stephen Lang, spitting out unconditional hate), with SS-like aides delighting in beating up anyone violating their snow-white code. An ex-Marine, Keith DeBruler (Josh Brolin), joins the troops, and Moose moves to collect another member. Keith’s willing, and a conveniently plotted move makes him Rhoades’ partner. The Van Peebles pair, who also co-produced, send down ample grit and gore, and there’s plenty of cursing, bashing and blood and whizzing bullets in well-choreo’d action scenes.
Production designer Rocco Matteo has created a pungent, claustrophobic feel that’s fitting, and Rhett Morita’s camerawork is effective. Mario Van Peebles wastes his talent with a limiting, stereotyped role. Melvin Van Peebles plays veteran cop Speier, and their verbal exchanges are flat or old hat, though the senior actor gets off an old-fashioned truism that he makes work: “This ain’t about black, this ain’t about white; it’s about right, man!” Brolin’s undemanding rookie passes muster, J.T. Walsh is effective as the assured Lt. Eyler, and Sean McCann as a depressed retiring officer succeeds. Lang’s Moose is a threatening and unsurprising meanie, and Williams’ FBI character is OK. A badly conceived proselytizing officer played by Peter Kosakais best forgotten. Natkin and Fuller have incorporated a couple of surprises, but they can’t help a basically routine cops-and-cops meller. Larry Brown’s intelligent score tries coming to the aid, too, but it’s no use. Unconvincing vidpic doesn’t do much for justice’s cause.