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Hal Hinson - Style section, "The purpose is to entertain, and on that score the film delivers impressively."


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'Original Gangstas'

The film is set in Gary, Ind., a city in devastating decline since the closing of its steel mills. Since then, Gary's poorer neighborhoods have been dominated by a gang called the Rebels, who set the story in motion when they shoot down a promising young basketball star after he hustles them in a street game.

The situation is about to explode when in strides John Bookman, a former NFL star whose father was shot for giving the police the license number of the shooter's car. John grew up in Gary; in fact, he and his buddies founded the Rebels. Since then, though, the old Rebels have been replaced by new and improved (and more dangerous) gangsters who control most of the illegal trade in the area. When John returns, his mission is to reclaim the streets and make them safe for decent folks. -- Hal Hinson
Rated R


Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: Fred Williamson; Jim Brown; Richard Roundtree; Pam Grier; Ron O'Neal; Oscar Brown Jr.; Isabel Sanford
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes







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'Original Gangstas': Dadz N the Hood

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 10, 1995

"Original Gangstas" is so faithful to the funky spirit of the blaxploitation films of the '70s that it almost seems as if it were a long-lost work from that period. Directed by blaxploitation auteur Larry Cohen ("Black Caesar") and starring Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Richard Roundtree and Pam Grier, the movie has a familiar low-budget, gritty, guerrilla style. It has the same pop-driven, inner-city energy, the same simplicity of purpose.

That purpose is to entertain, and on that score "Original Gangstas" delivers impressively. There is nothing fancy or pretentious going on here. The stars work through their usual numbers, building on the personas they built in the past. But it's still a hoot to see them do their stuff, even if they are a bit thicker and a step slower than before.

And yet while "Original Gangstas" may be a sort of golden-oldies concert, it isn't lazy and halfhearted in the way you might expect. The film is set in Gary, Ind., a city in devastating decline since the closing of its steel mills. Since then, Gary's poorer neighborhoods have been dominated by a gang called the Rebels, who set the story in motion when they shoot down a promising young basketball star after he hustles them in a street game.

The situation is about to explode when in strides Williamson as John Bookman, a former NFL star whose father (Oscar Brown Jr.) was shot for giving the police the license number of the shooter's car. John grew up in Gary; in fact, he and his buddies founded the Rebels. Since then, though, the old Rebels have been replaced by new and improved (and more dangerous) gangsters who control most of the illegal trade in the area.

When John returns, his mission is to reclaim the streets and make them safe for decent folks. At first he doesn't have much luck-that is, until his buddies line up beside him.

Once they do, of course, there isn't much doubt about what happens next. Still, the buildup to the final confrontation is achieved with such coolness and confidence that the lack of suspense isn't a problem. Also, the cast seems to be having such a splendid time that its enthusiasm is infectious. When Williamson and Brown are on-screen, they work together effortlessly, like an old song-and-dance team. And Grier and Brown, who play the murdered boy's parents, have a nice moment together, quietly settling their differences from the past.

Some other stars show up, too, among them Ron O'Neal ("Superfly"), Paul Winfield (robust as a local preacher), Isabel Sanford ("The Jeffersons") and the versatile character actor Charles Napier. But it's Williamson, the film's producer, who has the best line. In one of his charged confrontations with the enemy, the leader of the young Rebels warns the old bull that he had better watch out: "You might start something you can't finish." To which the star menacingly responds, "That ain't never been my style . . . brutha!"

And, no, it never has been.

Original Gangstas is rated R for language, violence, drug references and adult situations.

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