GANG-RELATED

R
Reviews

In Gang Related, two rogue cops, Divinci (James Belushi) and Rodriguez (Tupac Shakur), find themselves in hot water when they perpetrate one scam too many. As before, they set up and kill a drug dealer in a drive-by, labeling it gang-related and keeping both money and drugs. Only this time, the corpse turns out to be an undercover DEA agent. The bumbling twosome have to scare up a suspect, fast, and come up with Joe (Dennis Quaid), a drunken vagrant. Only Joe, it seems, has a hefty secret identity of his own. Adding to the twisted mix is Cynthia (Lela Rochon), Divinci's stripper girlfriend, who knows all and just might tell. Somebody's gotta take the fall.

Writer-director Jim Kouf crams the screen with enough incident, coincidence and characters to keep you watching. It's far from great, but diverting enough. The production is resolutely so-so, from the just-okay camerawork, riddled with demode 'Miami Vice' effects, to Mickey Hart's pallid, obligatory rap score. Kouf's dialogue is pretty much as flat as a pancake ('You better have a good alibi, otherwise it's alibi-bye'), so it's some kind of tribute to his actors that they get their points across so effectively. Belushi and Shakur (in his final film appearance) get a cornily ingratiating rapport going, antecedents of which would include Abbott and Costello. Belushi is as emptily blowhard as ever. His unmitigatedly nasty Divinci could have used some of the squalid charisma Gene Hackman had in The French Connection, but, no matter how many times he's above-titled, Belushi is no star. His entire arsenal of acting effects-the ironically cocked eyebrow, the pugnacious energy-all seem cadged from his gifted, late brother. Looking preternaturally ascetic, Shakur is given a thankless, nothing part, but has some uncannily moving moments that are not all script-related. 'Why do we have to start killing people, man?' he says at one point. 'I'm just sick of it all.' He also gets the biggest laugh in the film: 'Did you hear the one about the two cops who popped the DEA agent?' Feisty Rochon does the best she can with her conventional role and, incidentally, shows off some dance moves of the exotic variety to put Miss Demi to shame. Quaid seems to be doing a Nick Nolte impersonation in his hapless role and is further afflicted by a horrendously fake beard. James Earl Jones brings some welcome authority and, of course, That Voice, to the courtroom scenes as an attorney-for-the-defense you don't want to mess with. (An aside: Nearly every man in this movie, like nearly every man in America these days, sports a goatee. Goatees for men are like the Jennifer Aniston 'Friends' haircut for women: Only about five percent of the population really look good in them.)

--David Noh