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Sunday, December 27, 2015

STREET SMART (1987)

At 35, Christopher Reeve’s post SUPERMAN/’78 run as Leading Man ran out of gas with this gritty Jerry Schatzberg NYC urban drama. (Al Pacino & Sidney Lumet they ain’t.) A neat gimmick stands in for a plot: Struggling journalist invents a mega-pimp for a career-saving magazine article, then comes up against a real-life counterpart who not only likes the attention but buddies up to the writer in order to gain an alibi on a murder charge. (Maybe less Sidney Lumet than Sam Fuller, right down to the grabbed ending.) Made on the cheap by those hustling Cannon/Globus-Golan boys, it catches the tail-end of Manhattan’s graffiti-strewn/Fun City era (lenser Adam Holender smoothly folding in the Canadian location work). But verisimilitude largely stems from Morgan Freeman’s powerhouse perf as a controlling pimp with a hair-trigger threat mechanism, brilliantly handled without the usual huffing or puffing. Held back for decades as a Black actor looking for good roles, Freeman finally found his breakthrough @ 50. Now pushing 80, he’s moved on from pimps & chauffeurs to Detectives & Presidents.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Reeve must have been incredibly frustrated with his career arc. This film apparently only got set up as a package deal with the unfortunate SUPERMAN IV/’87. Was the problem physical? A big, handsome guy, Reeve proved unusually tough to shoot, as if made from mismatched parts. Watch when Schatzberg catches him from the back, he actually holds the screen with that broad back better than he does in straight-ahead portraits. Maddening.

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