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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.
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.
This is a powerful film and I hope you see it. Caught it here recently
on THIS TV Network, so likely it will come around again.
The opening scenes of Gary, Indiana present as an arresting message of what happens to prosperity when do-gooders, Wowsers, Uplifters, Eco-messiahs, Carrie Nations, lunatics, and other chronic nuisances chase industry and jobs away in the name of saving something or other. Plants close and shortly rust. People quit their homes and leave them to face nature's relentless onslaught along with the thugs who move in and make them into Den's of iNiquity.
Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson, Ron 'Superfly' O'Neil, they're all here along with the great Pam Grier, Jim Brown - Captain Anders in 1968's "Ice Station Zebra", along with the late and very much missed Paul Winfield who evinced touching cinemagic in 'Green Eyes'.
Even if you don't enjoy films in general, let alone the Blaxploitation genre, anyone who's into UE, Urban Exploration, sometimes called Industrial Archaeology - and if you're not, you should be - you'll swoon as serial images of one decrevalent building after another after oxydizing blast furnace after abandoned ten storeys-high heat stoves march across your screen. Yes, Gary, Indiana in "Original Gangstas" is prime Urban Exploration territory.
The film's message is poignant as ever: Don't incite people, particularly those wise in years, to righteous indignation. It's an unwise practice to do so.
Be sure to watch for the David Lynch-esquire visual anachronisms, e.g. the film takes place in 1996, yet many police cruisers hail from the 80s as well as the 90s. The Gangstas drive cars whose model years span a fifty year period, thus keeping you off balance until the stunning conclusion.
The wry humor, "there goes the neighborhood", will catch you off guard as well, and send you tumb-bumbling off the couch, onto the floor, and scurrying to your video store for your own copy of "Original Gangstas". If you don't own a copy of this, you should. Now. So do it. Now.
Paul Vincent Zecchino
Manasota Key, Florida
11 October, 2010
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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having grown up in after the Blaxploitation era, in cinema, i never really
got a chance to see any of the movies starting: Fred Williamson, Richard
Roundtree, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, or Ron O'Neal. This being the first film
saw with all of them in it.
Williamson plays John Bookman, a former leader of the Rebels in the 70's, who comes back to Gary, to find his former town, as gang hell. Now, this might be considered a spoiler, by some.
: The fight scenes in the movie, the hand to hand combat, has been overdone, with dramatic music and the aging fighting of Williamson, not being on the same level :
Still, the movie has given a dramatic feel, with some of the score to the film. Another spoiler, i apologize for this, but the best part of the movie.
:: When Bookman and Trevor are in the drive by shooting, to declare war on the New Rebels, it is a pivotal point in the film, wondering how it will end ::
The movie is excellent, as it showcases the ideas of the older generation vs. the new generation, how the two are out of touch with one another.
An interesting fact about this movie, is the fact that criminals were used as extras/actors in the movie. It was also interesting to see Isabel Sanford ( The Jeffersons ), in this movie.
In Closing, Original Gangstas is not on the level that Die Hard or Under Siege would be on, but for a better than average film, be sure to pick up Original Gangstas.
Somewhat disappointing homage to 70's blaxploitation films. Has a lot going for it with a cast full of great actors from that genre and a director who did some solid work there too. But ultimately it doesn't work well. Despite the violence and language, it's nowhere near as gritty, tough, and sexy as those 70's films. Also, and this sounds like a cheap shot, the fight scenes are comically bad. One could argue that perhaps this was an intentional part of the film paying tribute to the likes of Rudy Ray Moore but that would be a huge stretch. The fights don't appear to be choreographed so the actors just move each other around and throw professional wrestling punches instead. Still, the cast and director are worth recommending you check it out.
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