They’re back . . . and they’re bad. Original Gangstas is a return to the so-called blaxploitation 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 solid action entry.
Set in Gary, Ind. – the nation’s homicide capital – contempo yarn kicks off with a basketball hustle that goes sour. The gang shoots the wrong shop-keeper – he’s the papa of John Bookman (Williamson), a former bad boy made good coaching pro football in LA. 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.
There’s a sense of elation as law is tossed aside in favor of justice. 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.