A 14 year old boy runs away from his uncaring stepfather. Ultimately he lands in Time Square and is taken in by a Fagin-like cocaine dealer. The dealer introduces him to a band of homeless teens and initiates his training along with another youth. Meanwhile the youth's mother begins a feverish search for the boy. Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Better than most cautionary tales of the troubled teen. (spoilers)
The 80s was the primal decade for assorted cautionary tales about the delinquent teen, the victimized teen, and the troubled teen, inspiring a slew of dated after-school specials that most of us were forced to watch at some point in high school. This one, however, was done much better than most (and is even less so burdened by dated appearance, dialogue and more).
Brandon Douglas, somewhat of an 80s-bit part sitcom regular, plays 14 year old Eric who runs away to the romanticized Times Square after confrontations with his step-father who makes it clear he doesn't want much to do with the boy. His mother tries to stick up for the boy in instances, but ultimately defers parenting authority to the idiotic step-father, so Eric decides that since he's ultimately unwanted, he's ready to head out on his own into parts of New York city where the lonely teen seeking affection finds solace in the false securities and affections of all the wrong people--hustlers, drug dealers, etc. Eric befriends a young drug runner who's part of a disciplined gang called 'The Leopards,' run by a fast-talker named Otis, the only adult these kids seem to be able to trust. He promises security, family, and money for all who obey the rules and successfully do their part in dealing cocaine. And all the while, Eric's mother is frantically searching the city in search of her runaway son (played very well by Joanna Cassidy).
There is another story that shares some of the spotlight, that of a struggling single mother and her three young children. Danny Nucci plays the oldest, Luis, who is tired of seeing his mother working so hard to provide for he and his young sisters. So, when their apartment burns down and they're moved from a shelter to a hotel, it is not long before he finds a fast, but dangerous way of making money: The Leopards. Though we switch from Eric's position to Luis position in an almost rhythmic pattern, the story is largely centered on Eric.
I'm not sure how true to life some of these depictions are. This story seems to move rather quickly and in some instances, it doesn't look like Eric or Luis exhibit much judicious forethought about the situations they find themselves in such as when they're asked whether they want to join The Leopards. It's taken to a level that models somewhat 'Chain of Gold,' the Joey Lawrence/John Travola movie made a few years after this.
But, it does its best to add particular doses of reality. There is hardly much cheesiness, and it does make it's seriousness clear, especially during the latter half of the film when the kids find themselves in more trouble than they bargained for. And it doesn't end on a sappy, unrealistic high note where the mother's love for her son and the comfort of family is realized for all.
There's lot of 80s favorites here, cast-wise. Brandon Douglas and Joanna Cassidy, as mentioned before. Plus a young Danny Nucci; Larry B. Scott (of Revenge of the Nerds); and Ami Dolenz among other familiar faces. Worth trying if you can find it.
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