Gang Related (1997)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Police Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 8, 1997 (USA)  |   Run Time - 106 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

There are antiheroes, and then there are just unlikable protagonists. It's the latter category that describes the two main characters of Gang Related, and gets at why this uncompromising look into crooked cops feels more sordid than insightful. Tupac Shakur's character shows flashes of a conscience, but Jim Belushi plays a guy waist-deep in malfeasance -- not even a good guy undone by a tragic flaw, just a low-life miscreant who happens to carry a badge. Their downward spiral -- a patchwork of threats, silenced witnesses, and planted evidence -- is executed with watchable twists and turns, a strength of director Jim Kouf's script. But the characters are so unsympathetic that it's impossible to be invested in their successes or failures. Turning to secondary characters for signs of humanity is also futile. Of the variety of strippers, bail bondsmen, internal affairs agents, defense attorneys, and murderers who fill out the cast, only one wears a halo: Dennis Quaid's Joe Doe, a homeless drunk lost in a forest of facial hair, who gets implicated in the crime, but spends much of the movie so soused he can't speak. Gang Related earns some praise for a certain independent courageousness -- Kouf didn't kowtow to any studio execs who might have wanted a greater sense of character redemption. However, its demerits outweigh its strengths, starting with that evocative title -- which is also a red herring. The film is not, in fact, about framing gang members for crimes. Had it been, it could have carried a real sociopolitical urgency, perhaps even worked as a corollary to the wave of early '90s films that dealt explicitly with gang warfare. That would have also been a more resonant final project for Shakur, whose music gets lost in the soundtrack, and whose improved acting is wasted by inferior material.