MPAA Rating: R/Genre: R/ Genre: Dramatic Crime Thriller/ Stars: Christopher Reeve, Morgan Freeman, Kathy Baker, Mimi Rogers, Andre Gregory, Jay Patterson, Anna Maria Horsford/Runtime: 97 minutes
Alright boys and girls time for a little teeny tiny spur of the moment one-question quiz out there for all of you aspiring journalists that is meant to determine your code of ethics more than anything, but is also being conducted for both the purposes of this review to say nothing of my own internal cynical and twisted amusement. You have a big article that the deadline to turn in print on is coming up. Your usual sources have decided to inexplicably go mum, the trail is leading you absolutely nowhere, and you have yet to put down a single word to paper. So what do you do? I mean do you beg for more time, steal someone else’s work, tap out, become the news, or in a truly desperate and long-shot move how about you just invent a story that didn’t happen, but sounds pretty good? The reason I bring this up is because the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 1987’s Street Smart is a movie that regales us with a narrative dealing with such things as well as the unfortunate collision between reality and fiction, just and unjust, and accident and sheer dumb luck. It is also a slice of cinematic pie where we see the life of someone truly wicked and someone truly desperate collide and the fear, desperation, and just plain wrong that are created as fallout due to said collision. Indeed it might not be as claustrophic nor as tautly wound up as it darn well should been, but make no mistake dear reader: Street Smart still does to this day manage to make for a quite intriguing and riveting glance at how life sometimes has a comical way of coming back to bite you in the butt and how one seemingly innocent and born out of pure desperation choice can quickly enter into a tail spin and put your life and the lives of those closest to you at risk if not downright mortal peril.
The plot is as follows: Street Smart “87” tells the story of Clark Kent ehhh Jonathan Fisher (sorry, but when you have none other than Christopher Reeve playing this guy I simply couldn’t resist). Mr. Fisher within minutes of our movie opening we are able to learn is a quite regarded charter member in that particular field known as journalism, but who has found his career of choice at something of a fork in the road due to not being as respected as he used to be at one particular time. Fortunately our intrepid hero manages to score once again and this time in a very big way when he comes forward to his editor with a riveting, potent, extremely well-written, and very enlightening analysis into the lifestyles of pimps and the women in their employ on the more crime-ridden parts of New York City. Of course with a story of this magnitude you are most likely wondering if there is some kind of caveat to the whole thing and in this case you would be right. You see dear reader the reason that this story might sound way too good to be true is because our main character actually made the entire story up from the last word down to the last punctuation mark at the end of it. As rooted in fiction as it may be however, there is no denying that the story becomes a huge sensation that manages to get our hero back in the good graces of the journalism community at large. Things take a turn for the nightmarish however when, around the same time, an actual pimp also living in the Big Apple known simply as “Fast Black” finds himself facing serious murder charges after beating up and accidentally killing a customer who had been slapping on his girls about. An occurrence that wouldn’t be so bad….that is if the D.A. trying the case didn’t come across Fisher’s story and suspect that Fisher got his info from Fast Black and thus might have information that could seriously help the prosecution out and so he “politely requests” Fisher’s notes from when he wrote the article. Of course, as he and us in the audience know, Fisher can’t exactly produce his notes because there are no notes for a story that has absolutely no basis in fact whatsoever, but if he admits that then he will be seen as both a fraud and the worst kind of hack imaginable and will also pretty much be run out of the journalism community with pitchforks and torches. Now both Fisher and Fat Black find themselves looking at the potential of going to prison and together have found themselves ensnared in a hurricane that neither one can get out of, but that does have the potential to immerse them further and further into the primordial muck and ooze of their respective worlds that they occupy on this planet….
Now when looking at this film on the surface level, I can honestly say that Street Smart manages to give audiences a riveting and taut look at the world of prostitution whilst also conjuring up an easy to comprehend (due in large part to the performance given by Freeman) yet also downright chilling look at both life on the street and the in equal measure domineering, brutal, and relentless bond between a pimp and their “employees”. Yet although it is quite pitch-black and also intriguing in its insight, it is also part of a bigger package. I say that because although Street Smart might not be as potent when it comes to the core narrative of a reporter ensnared in a trap of his own making due to regaling a pretty significant yet fairly innocuous fib, that core is still actually fairly engaging on its own. Indeed the main narrative in this movie is one that gives off the vibe of being a morality tale that deals in the risks and dilemmas that can occurring with telling a lie especially if that lie gets you involved in an already horrific world of misery and violence. Indeed for Mr. Fisher, this fib is also for all intents and purposes either a transaction of his soul to Satan or trading away in his honesty as well as his chance to remain out of prison due to desperately wishing to stay at the top of his profession, but upon reaching the top finding that the limelight is a little bit more intense than he expected it to be. Thus even though the more intricate aspects of the narrative are usually overshadowed by the overall summation of said narrative, this slice of cinematic pie still does fairly good at combining everything together in order to conjure up a pitch black yet quite thought provoking movie that does a great job at really calling to task just what exactly your take on humanity really truly is at the end of the day.
Ultimately though it is in the truly riveting and electric performances on display in this slice of cinematic pie however where this slice of cinematic pie really manages to triumph. Indeed these performances are the way that the taut narrative becomes a lot more than just a group of gritty and soul examining aspects, but rather a very relatable, fairly dark, and well-rounded narrative of corruption on several different levels. Indeed as Fast Black, Morgan Freeman is downright electrifying yet also horrifying as well. Indeed this effort is rather unique for him since this is most assuredly one of the furthest removed from the Morgan Freeman that audiences would come to know and love in slices of cinematic pie like Glory and Driving Miss Daisy because his characters in those, more than anything else, are nowhere near as monstrous as the character of Fast Black is in this film. Yet I would like to say that more than anything else this film manages to show the skill and range of Freeman and his acting abilities especially in a part of this movie where we see him actually threaten to remove an eye from one of his girls and, whilst doing so, casually gives her the choice of which eye she would like him to remove. I mean this is honestly some of the more chilling work that he has done, and I really don’t know why we haven’t gotten more roles like this from him because he is amazing in all the slimiest ways possible in this. Now in the lead role, we do get good work from Christopher Reeve who is ironically very well-cast as the journalist who finds himself in a true hornet’s nest of a situation, but if I’m being honest it is nowhere near as electrifying as the turn in this done by Freeman. I mean if nothing else I have said about this movie makes you want to see it then please just give it a shot based off Freeman’s performance in this. It is that good.
All in all as a slice of cinematic pie, Street Smart is one that manages to consistently play with the idea of achieving true cinematic excellence and then actually manages to accomplish just that in several aspects of the overall production including, but not limited to how rough and tumble it manages to showcase for you, the viewer the darkness that is the underground prostitution rings which could be found in New York City at that particular time and, of course, the truly frightening and absolutely fantastic performance in this given by Freeman as one of the most terrifying pimps you will ever meet. Yet with all of those positives in play, this slice of cinematic pie sadly only chooses to slow dance to the bare minimum in other noteworthy areas especially when it comes to the core narrative not really being given the opportunity to go in-depth, if you’ll pardon the investigative journalism pun, into the reprehensible integrity behind both the quite problematic moral dilemma our main character decides to engage in and the dangerous minefield he finds himself tiptoeing throughout virtually the rest of this slice of cinematic pie’s 1 hr, 37 minute runtime. Be that as it may be though, I still found this movie to be quite riveting and that is why I can honestly say that Street Smart “87” is still by and large a riveting and truly intriguing film that, yes should have and easily could have been more than it turns out to be, still does manage to be something truly distinct and definitely worth a watch. On a scale of 1-5 I give Street Smart “87” a solid 3.5 out of 5.