Street Smart, the 1987 film directed by Jerry Schatzberg, provides a refreshing departure from The Cannon Group’s typical output of schlock movies, such as the martial arts extravaganzas like “American Ninja“, the supernatural oddities like “Ninja III: The Domination” and the dance-centric spectacles like the Breakin’ movies. This crime drama not only breaks away from the studio’s usual formula but also introduces audiences to a different side of Christopher Reeve. Known primarily for his iconic portrayal of Superman, Reeve takes on a morally ambiguous role in “Street Smart,” adding a layer of complexity to his acting repertoire.
Street Smart revolves around Jonathan Fisher (Reeve), an ambitious journalist who fabricates an interview with a fictional pimp. The district attorney becomes convinced that the pimp in the story is actually Fast Black (Morgan Freeman), a pimp who is on trial for murder. He subpoenas Fisher’s notes, which of course do not exist.
Trying to cover his tracks, does what he should have done in the first place. Black, seeing an opportunity, agrees to be the subject of Fisher’s fictional piece but only if he will provide him with an alibi.
Fast Black is Morgan Freeman’s breakthrough role, garnering him all around praise and an Oscar nomination. His portrayal of Fast Black is nothing short of captivating, stealing every scene with his commanding presence and charisma. The scene in which he threatens a prostitute with scissors is visceral and truly frightening.
While Reeve’s character is meant to be morally ambiguous opening the way to an interesting story, his arc falls a bit flat compared to the more dynamic and intriguing characters like Fast Black and his working girl Punchy (Kathy Baker). Fisher’s arc about becoming an overnight journalism star and TV street reporter is the weakest aspect of Street Smart.
The plot of Street Smart does have its moments of nonsensical twists, leading one to think that it might have worked better as the foundation for a far-fetched thriller. However, the film’s strength lies in its exploration of the gritty urban underworld and the consequences of blurring the lines between truth and fiction.
Street Smart is a commendable effort that showcases the versatility of its cast. The film’s departure from The Cannon Group’s usual fare is a welcome surprise, offering a more thought-provoking and character-driven narrative. Morgan Freeman’s outstanding performance, coupled with the film’s exploration of societal issues, elevates “Street Smart” beyond the confines of typical genre expectations.