MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Charm City Kings - Streaming on HBO Max
Directed by Angel Manuel Soto
Starring Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Meek Mill
There is much that I could recommend about Charm City Kings, the Sundance Film Festival Award Winner for Best Ensemble Cast. The cast is uniformly good, including young Jahi Di’Allo Winston as eight grader “Mouse”, a Baltimore kid who wants to learn how to stunt ride dirt bikes with the big boys, and rapper Meek Mill in his first film role. The location-based cinematography by Katelin Arizmendi is top notch, including a couple of truly exciting chase sequences. The film is well directed and the movie is interesting during its two-hour running time.
And then...there’s the script. I have yet to watch the 2014 documentary 12 O’clock Boys (filmed in Baltimore) that is the source material for this movie. That movie also tells the story of a young black teen who wants to ride stunt bikes. But what invariably happens when non-fiction stories turn into imagined stories is that you just have to start making stuff up.
The film starts out fine. Mouse prowls the streets of Baltimore on his bicycle with his two best friends Lamont (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.) and comic-sidekick-with funny-name Sweartagawd (Kezii Curtis). Mouse is still grieving the loss of his beloved big brother, but he is protected and occasionally mentored by Rivers (William Catlett), a neighborhood cop on the beat and a friend of his mother. There’s a cute new girl on the block (Milan Ray) that Mouse would like to impress (their scenes together are sweet and age appropriate).
Every Sunday night during the summer a large gathering of guys on dirt bikes race down the streets and perform amazing stunts including incredible wheelies. Along with the show comes a lot of macho bravado, some street crime, and confrontations with the police. The bike gang with the reputation of being most dangerous (including dealing drugs in the neighborhood) is The Midnight Clique. As Mouse investigates the gang, his path crosses with Blax, the former leader who is on parole and trying to go straight by repairing motorcycles in his garage. He takes a shine to Mouse and sees an opportunity to help him learn how to repair and maintain bikes by working in his shop part-time.
As the film hits its halfway point, problems begin to appear. Rather than simply present a troubled kid making a bunch of bad decisions and getting into trouble with an ex-con, the script decides to give Mouse and Blax hearts of gold. It is up to the other characters to stir things up for both of them, egging them on toward violent and tragic events. The film wants to arrive at a moment of redemption for Mouse, but his salvation comes in a way that is beyond belief.
Like a twilight drag race forced to grind to a halt, Charm City Kings burns rubber as it skids into a pileup of coming-of-age clichés.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: Who knew that they were still making Afternoon Specials?
Two pitchforks: Endless casual swearing; some extreme violence; scenes of theft.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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