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Original Gangstas

Set in Gary, Ind. -- the nation's homicide capital -- contempo yarn kicks off with a basketball hustle that goes sour.The hoopster picked the wrong guys to con and winds up in a pool of blood courtesy of the Rebels. The incident sends a shock wave through the community, and the gang shoots the wrong shopkeeper -- he's the papa of John Bookman (Williamson), a former bad boy made good coaching pro football in L.A.

With:
John Bookman ... Fred Williamson Jake Trevor ... Jim Brown Laurie Thompson ... Pam Grier Rev. Marshall Dorsey ... Paul Winfield Slick ... Richard Roundtree Bubba ... Ron O'Neal Spyro ... Christopher B. Duncan Kayo ... Dru Down Damien ... Eddie Bo Smith Jr. Dink ... Shyheim Franklin Gracie Bookman ... Isabel Sanford Marvin Bookman ... Oscar Brown Jr. Detective Slatten ... Robert Forster Michael Casey ... Wings Hauser The Mayor ... Charles Napier They're back ... and they're bad. "Original Gangstas" is a return to the so-called blax-ploitation pics of the 1970s. Even if there are no direct homages to "Shaft ,""Cleopatra Jones" or "Super Fly," the very presence of such performers as Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Pam Grier serves as an echo of that era. Eschewing parody, this two-fisted urban gang drama is a solid action entry. Pic is aimed primarily at a black audience, but its core idea translates across color lines and should provide good mid-range box office returns and possible franchise or sequel possibilities.

Set in Gary, Ind. — the nation’s homicide capital — contempo yarn kicks off with a basketball hustle that goes sour.The hoopster picked the wrong guys to con and winds up in a pool of blood courtesy of the Rebels. The incident sends a shock wave through the community, and the gang shoots the wrong shopkeeper — he’s the papa of John Bookman (Williamson), a former bad boy made good coaching pro football in L.A.

TX:An Orion release of a Po’Boy production. Produced by Fred Williamson. TX:Directed by Larry Cohen. Screenplay, Aubrey Rattan. Bookman rides into town and claims his turf. He enlists his former buddies to help him quell the terror. The only thing slowing down the process is a knee-jerk, liberal attitude toward mediation on the part of some community leaders. But efforts by the Rev. Dorsey (Paul Winfield) to squash the chaos are too little too late.

Aubrey Rattan’s script conveys a substantial sense of frustration with the powers that be. The theme is familiar, but it seems particularly pertinent in today’s society. There’s a sense of elation as law is tossed aside in favor of justice. The recycled fare is made fresh by the story’s Western lineage. The film’s “Magnificent Five” admittedly move a bit slower than the vintage warriors of the Old West, but they’re no less lethal.

It’s particularly gratifying to see Brown back before the cameras in a major role, as the original victim’s biological father. Mom is played winningly by Grier. Williamson is also effective in the kind of role that earned him a following, while Ron O’Neal and Richard Roundtree’s parts are little more than cameos. The large supporting cast of young performers is uniformly strong, including Christopher B. Duncan as the gang leader.

Modestly produced, “Original Gangstas” is a low-tech outing that’s sometimes a bit slow and flat in tone. In director Larry Cohen’s handling of narrative and imagery, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between down-and-dirty and simply crude. While there’s little doubt about the eventual outcome of this tale , everyone involved gets the job done without much fuss and with the cool savvy that makes the film a satisfying diversion.

Original Gangstas

Production: Original Gangstas (Action drama -- Color)

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Carlos Gonzalez; editors, David Kern, Peter B. Ellis; music, Vladimir Horunzhy; production design, Elayne Barbara Ceder; set decoration, Aaron Holden; costume design, Lisa Moffie; sound (DTS), J. Byron Smith; assistant director, Forrest Futrell; casting, Craig Campobasso. Reviewed at Orion Screening Room, L.A., April 22, 1996. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 98 min.

With: John Bookman ... Fred Williamson Jake Trevor ... Jim Brown Laurie Thompson ... Pam Grier Rev. Marshall Dorsey ... Paul Winfield Slick ... Richard Roundtree Bubba ... Ron O'Neal Spyro ... Christopher B. Duncan Kayo ... Dru Down Damien ... Eddie Bo Smith Jr. Dink ... Shyheim Franklin Gracie Bookman ... Isabel Sanford Marvin Bookman ... Oscar Brown Jr. Detective Slatten ... Robert Forster Michael Casey ... Wings Hauser The Mayor ... Charles Napier They're back ... and they're bad. "Original Gangstas" is a return to the so-called blax-ploitation pics of the 1970s. Even if there are no direct homages to "Shaft ,""Cleopatra Jones" or "Super Fly," the very presence of such performers as Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Pam Grier serves as an echo of that era. Eschewing parody, this two-fisted urban gang drama is a solid action entry. Pic is aimed primarily at a black audience, but its core idea translates across color lines and should provide good mid-range box office returns and possible franchise or sequel possibilities.

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