Original Gangstas Reviews
Like in all blaxploitation features, the ghetto is once again being disturbed by forces beyond the control of everyday citizens, this time the ghetto being set in Gary, Indiana, the forces being the Rebels, a cold-blooded gang. Most attempt to deal with them like cows deal with flies - to stand up and fight back wouldn't do much good. But that all changes when Kenny Thompson (Timothy Lewis), a well-liked local teen, is murdered in a drive-by shooting; enough becomes enough, with former Rebel John Bookman (Fred Williamson) teaming up with local brave hearts (including Kenny's mother, played by an always welcome Grier) to stage a massive set-up of retribution.
I've seen only a few blaxploitation movies, most of them starring Grier ("Coffy," "Foxy Brown"), some O'Neal ("Superfly"), and "Original Gangstas" works as an accurate continuation of the genre, capturing the recurring themes of badass vigilantism and street-side cool without breaking much of a sweat. Even the more minuscule features are there, like the way Kenny's funeral is soundtracked by the cringeworthy genre touch of a song whose lyrics directly (and unsubtly) reflect the situation at hand, or how the villains are so decked out in sociopathic swagger that we can't help but stay on the side of the dudes who aren't so blatantly over-the-top.
But the film's entertainment factor doesn't have much to do with technical familiarity - it has to do with the emotional familiarity of seeing most of the blaxploitation greats in the same room, reliving their glory days one final time. Williamson is just as convincing of a hero as he was during his youth, Grier even better as a Coffy twenty-something years later, still tough-as-nails but more noticeably hardened, smoothed out by the love that comes with motherhood.
"Original Gangstas" isn't a great film, no, but it derives a certain satisfaction from its reunion-based thrills. Cinematic eras never die so long as they're kept in our hearts, and the film is one of the few examples of a relatively unknown subgenre creeping out of its coffin in order to attain just one more moment. And that's enough for me.
Maybe worth a rental, but I wouldn't go selling that copy of Foxy Brown quite yet, you'll definitely want to give it another look to get this taste out of your mouth.