Gang Related - * * *

You’d think a film with a title like “Gang Related” would be yet another inner city drama about an innocent youth trying to survive amid gangs, drugs and violence. Well, think again. Although the film does involve drugs and violence, there’s nary a gang in sight. Instead, Gang Related focuses on two cops who pull off a morally ambiguous scam.

James Belushi portrays Detective Divinci, a man with a truly skewed set of ethics. His dream is an idyllic life in Hawaii, but his reality is the grimy life of a dirty cop with a stripper girlfriend, Cynthia (Lela Rochon).

His partner is Detective Rodriguez (Tupac Shakur). Rodriguez may have more ethics than Divinci, but he has a fatal flaw as well: gambling. He has stacked up a $27,000 debt, which he has no hope of ever paying off.

Divinci dreams up a scheme that might save them both. The two will sell drugs that have been seized by the police, then kill the buyers and reclaim the property. They then classify the killing as “gang related” and unsolvable, and repeat the scam all over again. Not only will the scam make them rich, but they’re ridding the city of its scum at the same time. Perfect, right? It is…until they run up against the wrong buyer. Then their entire world is turned upside down as they struggle to hang on to what they hold dear.

The strength (and ultimately the weakness) of Gang Related is its writing. Not your typical cop drama, the film starts out with unique, and in some cases unlikable, characters, then tosses them twist after twist after twist. Just when you think things can’t get any worse for Divinci and Rodriguez, they do. Yet, while the majority of the film flows naturally, the film artificially ties everything up at the end. The effect is similar to slamming into a roadblock: unnecessary and slightly unpleasant.

As the two leads, Belushi and Shakur carry their complex roles with ease. As the more menacing of the two, Belushi shows depth of character lacking in his previous roles. As the sympathetic member, Shakur shows true talent for creating a complex, but flawed, character.

The supporting cast is full of familiar faces, but deliver mixed performances overall. Lela Rochon is mostly an enigma in her stripper role, and Dennis Quaid bumbles through his performance as a homeless man. However, as various lawyers, James Earl Jones, Wendy Crewson and David Paymer all shine.

Corrupt cop dramas have come and gone. However, a smart script, and some stellar performance by its two leads lift Gang Related above the average corruption pic.

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