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It has always amazed me how the star of this film, Fred Williamson, has
gone to such great lengths to badmouth this flick and the work of his
former friend, writer-director Larry Cohen. I've read it and I've heard
it on DVD audio commentaries--"Hiring Larry for Original Gangstas was a
mistake," Williamson says. Yet he has nothing but praise for his own
work as a writer-director.
Is the Hammer on crack, or what? This is a very slick, very cool little low budget action flick that shows the old time stars to great advantage. Cohen did a great job. In fact, if you took all the good parts from every movie that Fred Williamson produced and directed himself and put them together, the film you'd end up with would still be 1/100th the film this one is (of course a compilation of "good parts" from Hammer's self-directed flicks would only be 15 minutes long).
I love Fred Williamson. His pre-1976 movies like "Black Caesar" and "Bucktown" are classics, and I like him as a performer. I'd LOVE to see him work in more mainstream movies, as a lead. But the man has only been in three halfway decent films in the past quarter century: "Starsky and Hutch," "From Dusk Til Dawn," and "OG." And "OG" is the best of the three in my opinion. His self produced-directed efforts, his Italian-Euro cheapazoid flicks--they ALL rank as some of the absolute worst movies of all time.
So, don't listen to the star of the show, just watch the movie. "Original Gangstas" is a solid flick.
This movie is correctly graded as a B picture. And yet it is more: an
hommage to a real, existing town in the throes of death. Before I picked
Original Gangstas as a cheap video cassette, I did not know that the town
Gary existed. I didn't even know a town like Gary could exist (this proves
once more: maybe we Europeans are kind of naive in the ways we evaluate
US's wealth and power and its effects.). Now I know better.
There is a certain similarity between this film and Jules Dassin's legendary documentary/crime movie The Naked City of 1948. Both use a style that wants to "tell a city". With the title credits the town is introduced to the viewers, with aereal footage, ordinary street scenes and a voice-over that tells something about the history of the town and a few selected buildings (the bakery, the cinema etc.). It is really educational. Very good location shooting gives a vivid impression of the specific urban wasteland. Gary becomes a real place. I also had the impression that the mood of the people who are forced or willing to live in present day Gary is accurately recorded: A mixture of anger, shame and - above all - fear. People are desperate, they don't see a future and the affiliation of youngsters to a gang appears for many to be the only way to survive.
In the story the main character played by Fred Williamson (also the producer and a Gary native who certainly put some very personal feelings into this movie) descends on the town as an aging "knight in shining armour". He assembles his old, middle aged buddies (plus Pam Grier!) and stages a war against the gangs. I did not care much for the story and its action scenes with unvariably high death tolls, but I must admit that this movie realistically highlights in a specific place a specific problem that is disquieting and difficult to solve.
This film does not work.
It has great potential and the theme of abandoning your roots frequently pops up -- giving potential for further plot development which most action films do not even approach. However, this all-star cast of blaxploitation veterans making their first film together rarely jells.
For instance, Fred Williamson, who produced, seems to have forgotten that there were other great actors from that era. 90% of the film is him strutting around, pontificating on how bad the neighborhood has become and why don't the cops/neighbors/politicians/whoever do something about it. He saw fit to put Jim Brown in as co-star, but Brown serves as little more than a bodyguard, punching the whey out of a few people and (in his one big solo scene) threatening a young thug. Richard ("Shaft") Roundtree and Mr. "Superfly" himself -- Ron O'Neal -- are given glorified cameos. In fact, the introductory scene with O'Neal is shown completely in long shot. Why didn't the director do a few closeups? You can hardly tell it's O'Neal. That's just sloppy direction (either that or they didn't have permits to shoot on city streets and shot this on the sly).
Other great character actors -- Robert Forster, Charles Napier, Wings Hauser -- are featured but have little to do but act like cartoon characters. Whoever wrote this film should have given thought to the reasons why the best blaxploitation epics worked.
Not a complete failure but overall a major disappointment considering this is the first and only film these stars have been in together (no chance for a reunion with O'Neal's recent passing).
** out of *****
A veteran cast make this update of the blaxploitation genre worth watching. Fred Williamson (Black Caesar), Jim Brown (Slaughter), Pam Grier (Coffy/Foxy Brown), Richard Roundtree (Shaft) and Ron O'Neal (Superfly) join forces to combat the newer, younger version of the same gang they formed some twenty years prior. Not enough Roundtree or O'Neal and barely enough action but a decent enough entry. For fans of the genre.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The town of Gary, Indiana is in dire straits. The old mill shut down,
businesses and industries left, the Jackson family vacated, and the
good people that remain are under the thumb of the rampant crime that
proliferated in the wake of the economy collapsing. And this isn't even
a post-apocalyptic thriller. When local grocery store owner Marvin
Bookman (Brown Jr.) is assaulted and shot by local punks, his son John
(The Hammer), a former football player, flies in from L.A. to try and
help. After seeing just how bad the situation has gotten in Gary, he
reunites with his old friends Jake Trevor (Jim Brown), Laurie Thompson
(Grier), Slick (Roundtree) and Bubba (O'Neal). The thing is, back in
the old days they were in sort of a "mark 1" version of a gang, the
Rebels. They would get involved in essentially harmless no-goodery. Now
gang violence involves drive-by shootings and near-constant brutality.
Hence, the ORIGINAL GANGSTAS re-form to save the day. What with the new
Rebels, as well as rival gang the Diablos, causing mayhem all around,
the OG's certainly have their hands full
but will they triumph over the
young punks? Find out today
If we're fans of any two things, it's
these two things: young punks getting their comeuppance from the older
generation, and Fred Williamson. Regular readers of this site will note
that both have been prevailing themes for us for years. To our delight,
a movie finally came along that ties both of them together: Original
Gangstas. Sure, it may have its flaws, but it also combines two other
genre mainstays we all love and enjoy: the 'cleaning up the town' movie
and the 'assembling a team' movie. Add to all that an outstanding
B-movie cast, and you have an entertaining romp.
The cast truly is one of a kind, and the concept pre-dates The Expendables (2010) by a good 14 years. We didn't even mention Isabel Sanford, Weezy herself, as Marvin Bookman's wife, and she gives a spirited performance. Also on board is Paul Winfield as Reverend Dorsey, a man caught in all the crossfire. All of what's going on around him might seem awfully familiar, as Winfield was in Gordon's War (1973), as Gordon himself. Could this be where Gordon ended up? Fan favorites Charles Napier, Wings Hauser, and Robert Forster - enough to support their own movie right there - are also on board, but in glorified (or not so glorified) cameos.
All of these familiar names are appreciated, and add to the fun and the texture of the overall movie, but, as often happens, when there's TOO many people, roles have to be necessarily small and characters get lost in the shuffle. Even the great Roundtree and O'Neal are essentially second fiddle. We noted the young Shyheim Franklin (credited as solely "Shyheim" in the opening credits, but with the full name for the end credits) as Dink. He stood out, of all people, amongst the pack.
There are a few things you can always count on with a Fred Williamson flick - his cool, his charisma, he'll be chomping a cigar, and there will be a live performance in a club or bar. In this case, he got the Chi-Lites, which was a good get. Like a lot of other modern-day Freds like Down N' Dirty and GONE!, when the older actors are on the screen, classic soul music plays. When the young punks are on (and they actually get called punks by their elders), rap plays. So, to counter the Chi-Lites, in a party scene we can see Bushwick Bill and Scarface, though they don't perform. That symmetry could only come from the mind of the great director Larry Cohen. Even we don't know if that last sentence was sarcastic or not, but Fred is credited as co-director of OG's.
Other things we learned: Jim Brown looks badass in a British Knights jacket, there is an actual place called East Chicago, Indiana (where some of the movie was shot), and if you don't like Fred Williamson, you probably have mental problems. While OG's would never come near the movie theater today, it certainly did back then, which must have been nice for everyone involved. I (Brett) even remember seeing commercials for it on TV when I was 15 or 16. It could certainly be said that this movie set the stage for the DTV Freds that came in its wake, as stylistically it is very similar.
Though OG's predates the show South Park (only by one year, however), there are dramatic and tear-filled readings of the line "they killed Kenny!" - other mentions of people killing Kenny are said throughout the film's running time. We know it's just a coincidence (or IS it?) but it did kind of help to keep the movie in the goofy zone. There are people out there that are disappointed that OG's wasn't some sort of serious treatise on the issue of gang violence. We think the filmmakers should have gone more in the other direction: how awesome would it have been to have seen Weezy mowing down gang members with a machine gun? Or even doing Martial Arts dare we suggest we missed an opportunity to see Weezy-Fu? Well, we should be happy with what we have.
For true OLD school Blaxploitation - though all involved probably hate that term - in the mid-90's, pretty much the only place to turn is Original Gangstas. It provides enough entertainment to sustain its running time (the cast alone could propel pretty much anything), and DTV/action die-hards should enjoy it, or at least appreciate it.
It's like old home wee when stars like Jim Brown (Slaughter, Black
Gunn), Fred Williamson (Starsky & Hutch), Pam Grier, Ron O'Neal
(Superfly), Richard Roundtree (Shaft), and Paul Winfield (Sounder) get
together to teach some young punks a lesson. Heavys of the 70's
blaxploitation genre are called home to get some revenge and clean up
the town. Lots of talking and shooting and good old fashioned
Pam Grier (Coffy, Foxy Brown) is back in the form we like. She was one of the first female action stars in Hollywood. Looking forward to a retrospective this weekend when they replay two of her best.
From the swaggy gentlemen at Po' Boy Productions, comes "Original
Gangstas", a film that is as engrossing as it is hilarious. This
painfully average film almost manages to keep the viewers glued to
their seats for decent portions of the movie.
Fred "The Hammer" Williamson headlines what could be described as a surprisingly good cast, at least in terms of blaxploitation standards. At the ripe age of 58, Fred has shown no signs of slowing down, and I was extremely impressed at the old man's youthfulness and his flair for kicking ass. Fred is joined by industry mediumweights Pam Grier, Jim Brown, & Richard Roundtree.
The movie takes place in the Hammer's hometown of Gary, Indiana. When a bunch of young, ignorant pranksters initiate a crime wave within the city, the Hammer decides to take matters into his own hands. The storyline is pretty solid, and the veteran actors turn in decent performances.
On the other hand, the younger guys in this movie didn't seem to know how to act at all. They weren't very believable, and "Dru Down" deserves a special mention, as he may be one of the worst actors I've ever seen. This ignoramus couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. A department store mannequin would have sufficed. With that said, the dialogue is above average. This film is full of great one-liners you can playfully recite with your friends while conversing at Chuck-E-Cheese. The action scenes were rough but entertaining. There is a scene where the Hammer round-house kicks a guy to the face, which causes the victim to conveniently land on a randomly placed mattress.
At times, this movie comes off like it was produced by some Mickey Mouse operation based out of the Cayman Islands. We're not dealing with a cinematic masterpiece here, folks. Nevertheless, this film will suffice for a day in order to cure boredom. However, if you're a fan of the Hammer, or blaxploitation films, or hilarious fight scenes, then you'll enjoy this movie.
As somebody who lives in the city just West of Gary, I can tell you that it does exist and is in worse shape than the movie portrayed. The gangs may be different but crime is still rampant. A lot of the buildings in the movie are still there, in worse shape than what was in the movie and they still film there when they want to show a disaster zone. The city relied too heavily on the former U.S. Steel to support it. As the mill downsized and other industry moved out,"White Flight" and corrupt politicians began the death knell. There are a lot of good people there who are trying to make things better, but aren't having a lot of success. It's really a shame, it was a beautiful city at one time. I did enjoy the movie enough to watch it a couple times.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A violent street gang, the Rebels, rule the streets of Gary, Indiana.
The Rebels shoot Marvin Bookman, a store-keeper, for giving the police
information about a drive-by they did.
Marvin's son, former NFL star John who helped to create the Rebels, returns to Gary to be with his father and, with a little help from his friends, to destroy the Rebels the Blaxploitation way.....
It was always going to be a one off film, getting the most celebrated stars of the Blaxploitation genre, and having them in one film, referencing their success, and seamlessly branching into the sub genre that Boyz N Da Hood started back in 1991.
But it's nothing more than seeing your favourite stars of yesteryear all being in one big vanity project, with a little bit of Death Wish thrown in for good measure.
It's all stuff we've seen before, old versus new, the youngsters haven't got the respect like they did in the good old days, and of course, the setting has hit the doldrums with poverty and crime.
But it's fun to see all these stars in one film in a genre that made them famous.
It's a curiosity for sure, but just about worth watching.
I have always been a big fan of the blaxsploitation genre of the 70's and Original Gangsta's brings back most of the genre's biggest stars for this ensemble cast 90's action flick. The film is headlined by Fred "The Hammer" Williamson and is accompanied by Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree and Ron O'Neil. In this very stylish 90's flick former old school heavies reunite to bring street justice and reclaim their neighborhood from ruthless dope pushing gang, The Rebels. This is the same gang that our heroes founded in the 70's as a protection gang, that has de evolved to its current incarnation as Gary, Indiana has become economically depressed, crime and violence has been on the rise. This was a great vehicle for Fred Williamson and "The Hammer" is a great commanding presence here as the lead. At age 58, he still is plenty tough and cool in this and is one of my favorite performances for sure. This is driven by action and style and there is plenty of it to go around. The more dramatic scenes were well done also and has great support from Paul Winfield, Robert Foster and Wings Hauser. Larry Cohen director of classics Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem did a great job in directing this and The Hammer himself was producer as well. Christopher B Duncan and Eddie Bo Smith Jr. were great as villains Spyro and Damien. Plus be sure not too miss cameo's from Bushwick Bill and others as well as a real excellent 90's rap soundtrack. Original Gangstas is pretty much The Expendables for the blaxsploitation genre and I personally like this movie a lot.
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