(German and Turkish dialogue)
Following on the heels of other Euro counterparts, German cinema gets its first real “Boyz N the Hood” with “Short Sharp Shock,” a punchy, gritty tale of three pals in multi-ethnic Hamburg whose friendship is tested in the city’s criminal milieu. Though the film becomes more of a conventional, tragic melodrama in its second half than promised by its nervy opening, the strong central performances and tight direction by freshman Fatih Akin (a German-born Turk) make this an agreeable ride. Foreign sales, however, could be tricky, given that many other countries already have their own local versions of such fare.
Central trio is Gabriel (Mehmet Kurtulus), a tough, lantern-jawed Turk; Costa (Adam Bousdoukos), a shaggy-haired, somewhat goofy Greek who goes out with Gabriel’s sister, Ceyda (Idil Uner); and Bobby (Aleksandar Jovanovic), a handsome but dangerous Serb. They all used to be in a gang together, but Gabriel , who’s just come out of prison, announces he wants to start over in life. Still , old habits die hard: When Gabriel spots Ceyda with another man, he almost loses control beating the guy up.
Major trouble rears its head when Bobby — to the annoyance of his g.f., Alice (Regula Grauwiller) — starts doing jobs for an Albanian mobster, Muhamer (Ralph Herforth). Gabriel provides a shoulder for her to cry on, and discovers his feelings for her are more than platonic. When Costa also joins the cold-blooded Muhamer’s gang, Gabriel tries to save his two friends from themselves, even at the cost of imperiling his dream of retiring to Turkey and setting up a restaurant by the sea.
Although the trio’s ethnic mix provides some good opportunities for verbal sparring, there’s nothing terribly original about the plot or the direction in which it goes. Scenes of the men carousing together become repetitive in the middle section, which lacks the bounce of the opening (zappy visuals, hard-driving music) and marks time plotwise before the final act kicks in.
In the end, it’s the pic’s well-defined personalities that maintain interest, rather than the rap-style visual trimmings. Kurtulus is excellent as Gabriel, in a performance that shows kindness behind the rough exterior without becoming maudlin. He’s best matched by Herforth as the vicious, half-mad Albanian: The inevitable showdown between these two, rather than anything else in the plot, is the main dramatic motor in the second half.
Bousdoukos and Jovanovic are fine as Gabriel’s pals, with an easy chemistry, and both Grauwiller (much better than in the Indiana Jones rip-off “Cascadeur”) and Uner show sufficient character and spunk for their roles not to be completely submerged by the film’s male slant. Mostly set at night, with deep blacks and blues dominating the color scheme, the whole film has a relentlessly umbral look that may put some people off but does fit the claustrophobic subject matter.