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.