Jim Belushi and Tupac Shakur are an odd pairing on paper to star in a cop flick together, but they’re extremely effective in Jim Kouf’s Gang Related, a twisty neo-noir with a great cast and a few tricks up its sleeve. They play two inner city detectives who are corrupt, but the script doesn’t treat them with the same jaded judgment and moustache twirling villainy that some dirty cops get in Hollywood, there’s a surprising empathy towards them especially in Tupac’s performance. After they accidentally murder an undercover DEA agent, they try to frame a nearby homeless man (Dennis Quaid), coach a few witnesses and make it seem like they were never involved. Things get spectacularly messy when they discover that Quaid’s disheveled hobo isn’t just a nobody and there are people in high places, not to mention both the DEA and gang factions coming after their morally duplicitous asses. It’s kind of like a reap what you sow tale, these two guys aren’t especially nasty characters, but they did commit a really shady act and now the proverbial karmic dildo has come back to royally fuck them. Belushi is the tougher, more unflappable veteran who is more willing to compromise his soul with the cover up, while Tupac is the younger, more impressionable cop and fears the road he’s being led down, and well he should. They both put in fantastic performances, while Quaid does well against type and the three of them are supported by Tiny Lister, David Paymer, Lela Rochon, Wendy Crewson, Gary Cole and James Earl Jones. A solid urban crime thriller, fairly overlooked as well.
Bullet is a violent cautionary tale about what it means to live a life of crime in New York City’s brutal Hell’s Kitchen, to live (and die) with all the baggage and tragedy that comes along with it. Mickey Rourke is excellent as Butch Stein, a pathetic yet somehow endearing Jewish American hoodlum locked in a personal war with local drug dealer and gangster Tank (Tupac Shakur). Butch still lives with his family, and spends his nights slumming about with slick wannabe wiseguy Lester (John Enos III) and his gangly brother Ruby (Adrien Brody). One gets the feeling that all of them are essentially still little kids who never learned to grow up or use their words, but the sandbox they’re squabbling in now is a dangerous area of town, and their toys are heavy artillery. Butch has another brother, a reclusive weirdo played phenomenally by Ted Levine. He’s distant and strange, but there’s breaks of clarity that shine through, and in those moments he’s pretty much the voice of reason amongst all the tomfoolery that adds to the mortality rate in their district. Levine is unique and shelters the gold in his work until right at the end, letting off an emotional stinger of a cap to his performance that is yet another testament to his skill. Rourke broods through his work with sombre self loathing and a grim resolve, dead set in his ways, perhaps unable to live his life differently, and feeling helpless at the road he’s taken, a dark one that has strayed far from what might have been. Tupac’s role is somewhat underwritten, which isn’t quite fair to the guy, because he has more acting talent than pretty much any other rapper I’ve seen in film. Reduced to a mostly a jive talk sterotype gangsta antagonist, I would have liked to see them allow him to level with Rourke in a way that made their locking horns seem a little bit more than just a petty turf war. Director Julien Temple comes from a music video background, and transitions nicely into the world of the urban crime drama, shooting the seedy NYC locales with glittery precision that suggests festering rot below. It’s an anti-crime film, and I’m always curious to see if such a sentiment is undone by the glorification of such a lifestyle, intentional or otherwise (it’s easy to get caught up in sensation and cinematics, losing sight of what you set out to say in the first place). This one stays true to its word, showing us characters who have irreparably lost their way, and assuring bullet by bullet, death by death, that this isn’t any kind of life for anyone. Searing stuff.