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Street Smart (April 9/01)

This is the movie that famously provoked Pauline Kael to ponder whether or not Morgan Freeman is the greatest American actor. While the film itself isn't that great, it's easy enough to see why Kael would say that about Freeman.

Christopher Reeve stars as an ambitious young reporter that, as the film begins, is pitching idea after idea to the editor of a big New York magazine. He becomes desperate and abruptly says that he will profile a pimp. The only problem is he doesn't know any pimps. And after wandering the seedier areas of New York in search of a pimp, he discovers that pimps don't like talking to reporters. So, he makes up Tyrone. All's well and good - the editor loves the story and it becomes front page material - until the DA reads the article and is convinced that Tyrone is really Fast Black, a particularly vicious pimp he's trying to prosecute. Now Reeve is facing quite a conundrum - does he tell everyone he made up the story and in turn lose any respect he had as a journalist, or does he team up with Fast Black and continue the charade?

It's a really interesting premise that is wasted on a movie that insists upon throwing in one stupid subplot after another. The best example of this would be Reeve's relationship with an aging hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (played by Kathy Baker, of all people) that makes no sense whatsoever, especially considering he's dating in-her-prime Mimi Rogers. Add to that a few convoluted plot twists involving Freeman's character Fast Black towards the end of the movie, and you've got a flick that could've used some streamlining.

But the movie's still worth seeing, though, if only for Freeman's electrifying performance. He'll go from affable pimp to deadly pimp within seconds and he's completely convincing. I particularly enjoyed one scene in which he threatens to cut one of his hos (is that the correct term?) for withholding money, and Reeve stupidly tries to interfere. Freeman shoots Reeve a look of psycho menace and actually holds it for something like 30 seconds, all the while holding a broken bottle up to the whore's neck! Wow.

Reeve is good, despite what every single review I've read of this has said. He's perfect for this role, which requires him to be a fairly naive reporter. I mean, really - how much of an idiot do you have to be to make up a story that will be read by millions of people? This cat isn't too bright and that's exactly the way Reeve plays him - as someone in way, way over his head. You have to feel kind of sorry for this poor schlub (that is, until he leaves Rogers for a dirty, dirty whore).

Street Smart isn't the best movie out there on this subject (okay, it's probably the only movie out there on this subject, but it could have been done a lot better), but is worth a viewing if only to catch Freeman's amazing performance.

out of