Wednesday October 8, 1997
Kouf's script, about a pair of scum-of-the-Earth cops who panic when their amoral scam starts to fall apart, must have read better than it plays. A more-than-respectable cast, from stars James Belushi and the late Tupac Shakur through supporting players Lela Rochon, James Earl Jones and Dennis Quaid, have signed on, but it matters not.
For a combination of credulity-straining coincidence, characters it's difficult to care about and the violence and foul tempers that we've come to both expect and dread in similar urban dramas means "Gang Related" is not going to make anyone's day. The more Kouf and his actors try to make this abrasive muddle believable, the less they succeed.
The particularly violent and cynical con game police partners Divinci (Belushi) and Rodriguez (Shakur) are running has been going on for some time when "Gang Related" opens, and it does have a certain brutal simplicity.
Pretending to be drug dealers, the guys sell a bag of good stuff to known dealers, pocket the money and almost immediately murder their helpless victim. They write the homicide off as "gang related," deftly recover the bag of drugs, wash the blood off and start the whole cycle all over again.
Aside from convincing themselves that they're performing a public service by ridding the streets of evil, the partners need the money. Rodriguez has a nasty gambling habit, and Divinci, who uses his exotic dancer girlfriend Cynthia (Rochon) as bait in the scam, dreams of retiring to Hawaii, source of the multicolored shirts he favors.
Not a bad scheme, or plot device, but then things start to go sour. One of the murdered marks turns out to be an undercover operative for the Drug Enforcement Agency, and Divinci and Rodriguez have to deal with federal agents thirsting for revenge while figuring out whom to frame for a crime they themselves committed.
Their selection, born of desperation and sheer script idiocy, is a battered, filthy, just about comatose street person (a grunged-up Quaid) who literally can't remember his own name. A person too out of it to stay awake is hardly likely to make a convincing murder suspect, but Kouf's script plunges ahead nevertheless.
That's because "Gang Related" has yet another farfetched scenario involving Mr. Comatose that it wants to fuse with what's gone before. The result is a bad luck story with way more twists and turns than it's worth the time and trouble to negotiate.
Not helping is the surliness and unlikability of just about everyone in the film. "Gang Related" has much pointless violence, vile language, bad tempers and people happy for the chance to call one another "pus head." It's especially sad that rap star Shakur, who had a considerable amount of promise as an actor, would end up having a film like this be his last.
Writer-director Kouf has an eclectic resume, including writing credits on "Stakeout" and "Operation Dumbo Drop." His work here results in a disjointed film whose attempts at intrigue end up no more than irritating.
If "Gang Related's" press kit is any judge, Kouf and his wife, executive producer Lynn Bigelow-Kouf, are especially pleased with their life on a ranch in Montana, a locale noticeably lacking in the kinds of lowlifes this film presents. It's too bad they can't resist the impulse to inflict these kinds of sleazeballs on the rest of us.
Gang Related, 1997. R, for strong language, some violence and a scene with nudity. Orion Pictures presents a Brad Krevoy & Steve Stabler production, released by MGM. Director Jim Kouf. Producers Brad Krevoy, Steve Stabler, John Bertolli. Executive producer Lynn Bigelow-Kouf. Screenplay by Jim Kouf. Cinematographer Brian J. Reynolds. Editor Todd Ramsay. Costumes Shari Feldman. Music Mickey Hart. Production design Charles Breen. Set decorator Stephanie Ziemer. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. James Belushi as Divinci. Tupac Shakur as Rodriguez. Lela Rochon as Cynthia. James Earl Jones as Arthur Baylor. Dennis Quaid as William.