Pulled from its original May airdate thanks to the L.A. riots, MDSDthis forceful, raging cop show, “In the Line of Duty: Street War,” glares at coke dealers and easy killing. T.S. Cook’s potent, purposeful drama has lots of unsettling things to say; director Dick Lowry and his first-rate cast come right out and say them.
The tale involves two Brooklyn cops, Michael Boatman and Mario Van Peebles, assigned to patrolling a housing project, and of young ex-con Morris Chestnut, who reluctantly hooks up with crack king Courtney B. Vance, who knocks off any defectors. When Vance guns down one of the patrolmen, he’s in real trouble–and the surviving cop’s sworn target.
Detectives Peter Boyle, Ray Sharkey, occasional narrator of the story, go after Vance, whom everyone’s wanted to nail for a long, long time. But much depends on testimony of those around Vance; the wind-down’s faintly rosey hued, but the impact’s still there.
Hard-hitting scenes abound under producer Lowry’s firm direction. The violence is there, all right, as in a beauty shop massacre or in several rat-a-tat-tat streetwipeouts pulled off by Vance’s gang; the slayings of Vance’s enemies are rough, and how much influence the outrageous acts will have on impressionable young viewers may soon seen in statistics. It’s easy to figure why the TV movie was yanked last spring.
The cool, upsetting disregard for life stings; as cop Boatman notes, the whole damn planet “is full of animals.”
Van Peebles and Boatman, creating easygoing, alert characters, share several strong scenes. As Vance’s new, uncertain staffer, Chestnut is convincing despite the ambiguity of the character; Laurie Morrison as his worried girlfriend is a standout. Sharkey and Boyle act as dependable anchors for the plot, with Sharkey effective in a spouting-off seg with the inestimable Van Peebles.
Courtney B. Vance presents a 24-carat Tartar, with Kenny Leon turning in a surefire turn as his aide. Damon Pooser, playing the turncoat, is 100% convincing.
Lowry gives Cook’s intricate, tough script a gritty realism, Guy Barnes’s superior production design and Anita Brandt-Burgoyne’s well-paced editing plusses. Frank Beascoechea’sAtlanta lensing (abetted by a day second unit N.Y. outing) gives the vidpic a hard-edged, uncompromising look.