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‘South Central’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 21, 1992

"South Central" is an accessible, even hopeful, urban drama about a young gangster's struggle to give his son something he never had: his father's guidance and love. Though based on the novel "Crips" with its inner-city setting, the film has less to do with the gangs than with the destructive, even racially suicidal cycles fostered by violent crime. There's not a lot of finger-pointing in writer-director Steve Anderson's sociological material, which he approaches instead with what he describes as "compassionate realism."

Glenn Plummer, who also played a gang member in Anderson's "Hearts of Stone," brings an underlying but unmistakable decency to the leading role of Bobby, a teenage tough who finds he's become a father while serving a year in jail. It's immediately clear that Bobby was made to be a father, the way he dotes on little Jimmie, holding the smiling tot on his lap even as he's carousing with his cronies, the Deuces.

Led by Bobby's best friend, Ray Ray (Byron Keith Minns), the Deuces have been consolidating their power over the drug trade in the 'hood while Bobby did time. Though Bobby's deeply affected by his unexpected feelings for his son, he also perceives Ray Ray and the Deuces as his surrogate family. They goad Bobby into killing a rival dealer -- Bobby is holding Jimmie in his arms when he's arrested for the murder.

Sentenced to 10 years this time around, Bobby seems to be following in his own father's footsteps when he is befriended by an older convict, Ali (Carl Lumbly), who teaches him first self-respect, then self-love and finally self-discipline. In return, Ali asks Bobby to become a good father to his now 10-year-old son. When Bobby's released, however, he finds that Jimmie is already modeling himself after his role model, Ray Ray, who has set him to work stealing car stereos. Now Bobby must muster all the courage of his convictions to save his child.

"South Central" covers some of the same ground as "Boyz N the Hood," but certainly there's nothing wrong with reiterating its positive message for black sons and fathers. True, it may be that Anderson and friends will find their only listeners among the baritones and basses of the choir. Certainly black mothers and daughters won't find themselves kindly portrayed, nor their contributions acknowledged. Except for a kind nurse, they're always referred to as "bitches," apparently by way of dramatizing that they too are victims of this beastliness. It is unjust, however, to belittle women to make men feel good about themselves.

"South Central" is rated R for language and violence.

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