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When his father threatens to send him to California to live with his grandmother, Gordon Baker and his two best friends compete in a street basketball tournament in order to prove his worth and redeem himself in the eyes of his father.
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Now for the stuff you can read or not, to your liking. After my first viewings of Basic Instinct and Body Of Evidence, back in the day, I spied this one on the video store shelf and, for me, it was like tasting a good sugar free chocolate for the first time. This one had young, attractive people in the lead roles (a man in his twenties, C. Thomas Howell who went on to make many more sleaze films during that decade, a girl pretty much the same age but playing a seventeen year old, Renee Humphrey giving it her all). It was a story about a cop and a misguided girl being sought by a pimp/human trafficker (for the obvious reasons). It had guns that reflect the ones I was raised with (guns that don't always kill the target and often leave people injured, not the magical-movie guns that leave the good guy running around like nothing happened to him). It had coming of age difficulties combined with clear and disturbing exploration of the idea that, even older people, haven't really come of age because we are all still learning. It had everything a quality sleaze film was supposed to have and everything I wanted it to have, and then some. This, for me, was the best of those first three I watched and is still one of my favorites.
Basic Instinct violated two of the cardinal rules in casting big names and filming, in panoramic no less, all the glitz and glamour of wealth and privilege in the big city. Body of Evidence was fun, still, Madonna was too much and the actual use of wax was somewhat awkward, given her personally proclaimed proclivities at that point in time. Streetwise, then called Jailbait, was a film that held true to low-budget regulations with darkly lit locations and characters of limited means. With a lead-in on a brash young cop, who does what it takes to get the job done, we are led on to meet the mid-western import, a seventeen year old wild child with a dead mother, prostitute/lounge singer sister and a tendency to make all the wrong choices in life. Of course they fall in lust and, presumably, love and, of course, the guy saves the girl. That having been said, what sets this film apart is the combination of that all too satisfying, nice and tidy, gritty and, somehow, somewhat accurate plot added to the increasingly rare, unapologetic portrayal of male attitudes toward females and female attitudes toward males.
Think of it this way, if you ever hung out on LA city streets at 2 am in the late 80s to early 90s, then you know how accurate this movie is, too accurate in certain ways. But, beyond the visceral portrayal of how difficult life was for many youths at that time, on the streets with no parental involvement (thankfully my experience was from research for a Criminology Degree, not from being homeless), this film steps away from the popular themes of equality between the sexes and education, men understanding women and women learning to fight for themselves, and moves toward a topic all too often missing from films of this type, the ambivalence of men toward women. Today, we see films trying to sugar coat and even pretend-away the truth of just how very ambivalent young straight men feel toward the opposite sex. It is a combination of fear and loathing existing alongside that tremendous desire and a willingness to do just about anything to get a woman which leads many young men to make many bad decisions. Modern attitudes on sex and relationships all but abandon this exploration of the male attitude, especially as you move out of the 90s and into the new millennium. Throwing over this ambivalence in favor of the more politically correct and acceptable attitude has become increasingly popular, with films showing more and more that women are at their best when they are strong and can protect themselves, when they don't need men, when they can save the day themselves with nothing but that T2 Linda Hamilton fighting spirit and a few kickboxing classes taken between vegan menu lunches and bottles of wine. (Just look at how easily tiny women in movies beat the tar out of insanely large and muscular men and you'll know what I mean.) Well, as a woman, I appreciate the girl power movement but suffer no delusions about my ability to kick Schwarzenegger's you know what and, for the record, he would kill me easily if he really wanted to, and I mean the actor, not the Terminator. For that reason, I still appreciate some good old 90s sleaze, particularly of the cop and victimized woman variety, but, beyond that, I can't help but love a film that dares to delve into the very issue I spent a whole confused semester on in college: male ambivalence toward the female of the species.
If you are looking to be taken back to an earlier time. to spend and hour and half with the grittier side of the cop vs. bad guys drama, to remember the days when the prostitutes were in trouble and needed a man to save them, then this is the one for you. If you are looking for girl power but still craving that 90s sleaze grit and ambiance, try the Angel series. They give the best of the old and the new in a nice girl-fights-back wrapper. This one is old school. Good luck making your choice.