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‘Street Smart’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 25, 1987

"Street Smart" isn't "Perfect" (thank heaven). It's more like "Uptown/Downtown," a look at the world of differences between a well-heeled magazine journalist (Christopher Reeve), who concocts a fictional profile of an upwardly mobile Times Square pimp, and a real pimp (Morgan Freeman), who the law is convinced is the model for the story.

The piece ends up on the cover of the glitzy New York Journal and before you can say "call my agent," Reeve is doing a series of investigative bits for a television news program. Problems crop up when the real pimp is charged with a murder and the prosecution demands the journalist's notes on his interviews.

Those notes, of course, don't exist, and while at first Reeve stonewalls with First Amendment excuses, he later has a hard time convincing anyone that he made the whole thing up. The judge holds him in contempt, and the pimp's trial turns into a constitutional confrontation.

Reeve's character is no Clark Kent or Seymour Hersh, but a cynical, opportunistic writer quick to make ethical and moral compromises and sell out to the highest bidder. The part is a welcome change of pace for the Actor of Steel, who comes across as an unlikable, unscrupulous cad. (He's a handsome cad, though -- obviously tapped for the role because his looks so closely approximate those of the average working journalist.)

Kathy Baker does a good turn as a prostitute -- she's far from gorgeous, but hard and stout and looking like she's been around -- while the preppy-looking Mimi Rogers plays Reeve's girlfriend. Andre Gregory (of "My Dinner With ...") plays Reeve's socialite editor, lemon-faced Jay Patterson the prosecuting attorney and Frederick Rolf the sleazy defense lawyer. Both journalism and the law take a beating here.

Also, Montreal appears as New York.

The most convincing acting comes from Freeman as the vicious pimp Fast Black. The role is hardly a triumph over racial stereotypes, but the veteran actor gives his character an indelibly ugly and disturbing edge, making quite real the mix of paternalism and sudden sadism that pimps use to keep their victims on a short leash.

But "Street Smart" as a whole is flat. Director Jerry Schatzberg's major problems are lethargic pacing and a strained plot. The sequence of events portrayed -- from the uncomfy alliance between writer and pimp to the proposed new fiction (phony notes) designed to provide Reeve with an alibi -- is less than logical, and the violent finale is not only ridiculous but morally reprehensible.

"Street Smart" is rated R and contains profanity and scenes of violence.

Copyright The Washington Post

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