Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Wouldn't Say Smart...: "Street Smart" (1987)

Christopher Reeve plays a reporter who makes up a story and eventually is called on it. This main plot is not nearly as interesting as the subplots that fly around it.

Reeve plays Jonathan, a struggling magazine writer. He has a cute girlfriend Alison (Mimi Rogers), but no story to pitch to his editor. He decides to write about a pimp, and goes to find one. He meets hooker Punchy (Kathy Baker), who will not help him. Finally, out of desperation, Jonathan writes a story, making up a pimp named Tyrone.

Fast Black (Morgan Freeman) is Punchy's pimp in real life. He beats an abusive john, giving him a fatal heart attack. Fast Black comes up on second degree murder charges, being pushed by an ambitious district attorney. The attorney decides Jonathan's creation Tyrone is in fact Fast Black, and subpoenas Jonathan for his nonexistent notes. Jonathan has jumped to television reporting now, but keeps up the ruse. He meets Punchy again, and sleeps with her, then meets Fast Black. The two come to an agreement, Fast Black will pose as the article's subject if he'll show Jonathan real life on the streets. Jonathan sees Fast Black for what he is- a violent man who likes to scare and intimidate people.

Jonathan's world collapses as he is in and out of jail on contempt of court charges over the notes. Alison dumps him, and Fast Black decides Jonathan should fake the notes, providing Fast Black with an alibi for the murder. Jonathan refuses, and Fast Black begins hurting those close to the reporter.

Jerry Schatzberg is not stranger to the urban nightmare. He directed "Panic in Needle Park," and has a sure eye at shooting gritty city exteriors. However, I had the same reaction to this film as I did to "Midnight Express"- if dummy main character had not done this one stupid thing, we would not be watching the movie. Why does Jonathan lie? He watches the lie snowball and does nothing until it is too late, and no one believes him! He sleeps with Punchy, ruining his relationship with Alison, for no real reason. The seduction scene between Baker and Reeve is dark and sad, but has Aretha Franklin's song "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" drowning out the conversation! Whose idea was this?

Reeve tries, but his character is such a mess, even the light moments he manages cannot change the fact the I disliked Jonathan more and more as the film went on. Morgan Freeman is chilling as Fast Black, watch for his scene with Punchy and a pair of scissors. Kathy Baker is very good as Punchy, she is not the hooker-type actress, but pulls it off. Kudos to Erik King as Fast Black's right hand man, Reggie. He may seem like a minor character, but he ends up being very important to all involved.

That good old fashioned '80's synthesizer score permeates the soundtrack. Most of the film is dark, and the cinematography is good. This is not a badly made film, but the film makers never let us get into Jonathan's head. We have no empathy for him, and that leaves us no one to cheer on, with the exception of secondary character Punchy. Even Jonathan's television reports are unrealistic, Hollywood imaginings of what TV news is.

A good supporting cast cannot save "Street Smart," an annoying statement that never casts blame where it should- on its main character. It also never answers the one burning question I had while watching it- why should I care? (* *) out of five stars.