Thursday, May 14, 1987STREET SMART. Written by David Freeman. Music by Robert Irving III. Directed by Jerry Schatzberg. Running time: 97 minutes. B.C. Classifier's warning: some violence, suggestive scenes. Restricted entertainment.
TYRONE. HE'S TODAY'S celebrity. His story is featured on the cover of New York's trendy Journal magazine.
It’s revealing. It’s a sensation. It’s also a fake.
"I'm amazed I got away with it," reporter Jonathan Fisher (Christopher Reeve) tells his girlfriend Alison Parker (Mimi Rogers). He’d planned to do a hard-hitting report — “24 hours in the life of a pimp” — an honest, authentic profile of an urban outlaw.
He sold editor Ted Avery (Andre Gregory) on the idea, promising that "in 2,000 words I’m going to take you into this man's skull.” Fisher really thought that he'd find the right interview subject before his Monday morning deadline.
“I’m also ashamed I got away with it," he admits to Alison. Though he put in the hours observing the action in the Times Square tenderloin, nobody would talk to him.
Devious in his desperation, he manufactured Tyrone out of whole cloth and Avery bought it. Every word. "What the hell," he shrugs "I’m back in business.”
What the hell.
Fisher is no Superman. Ambitious, intelligent and under stress, he gives in to temptation.
And what happens to him? First, he gets famous. Then he gets used.
Leo “Fast Black” Smalls (Morgan Freeman) is a fancy man who resembles the fictional Tyrone. A man with a temper, he recently beat one of his working girl’s clients to death. The Street Smart pimp is under arrest when the Tyrone article hits the streets.
Since D.A. Leonard Pike (Jay Patterson) won’t plea bargain, detense attorney Joel Davis (Frederick Rolf) hits on the idea of subpoenaing Fisher’s "notes.”
“If we play this right," he tells Smalls, "we can turn this from a murder trial into a Constitutional confrontation.”
Credit director Jerry (No Small Affair) Schatzberg with playing it exactly right. Not since All the President’s Men has there been a more pertinent, chillingly real tale of big city journalism.
Within the context of a suspense thriller, screenwriter David Freeman sets out the ethical problems and personal imperatives faced by members of today’s mass media. Without sacrificing dramatic impact, the picture raises a host of timely questions about the methods and motives of the newsgatherers.
In a tension-filled tale of life on the streets, Schatzberg shows us the wild side that both fascinates and frightens smart set liberals. As played by the talented Freeman, "Fast Black” is alternately attractive and terrifying, an utterly convincing portrait of urban evil.
Recalling the hero of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Reeve plays a man dangerously attracted to the night dwellers' world. An underrated actor, he shows us a man growing through his experience.
The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1987. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.
AFTERWORD: The son of a journalist mother and novelist father, actor Christopher Reeve seemed destined to play characters gifted with the words. Between his screen debut in 1978 and the 1995 riding accident that left him a quadriplegic, he appeared in 16 theatrical feature films. Half of those roles cast him as a writer, including parts as an aspiring playwright (Deathtrap, 1982); a successful playwright (Somewhere in Time, 1980); a magazine writer (Street Smart, 1987); a TV news reporter (Speechless, 1994) and Superman's alter-ego, reporter Clark Kent (1978, 1980, 1983 and 1987). Nor can we forget his turn as the beau of a TV news reporter in 1988's Switching Channels (a remake of His Girl Friday). Finally, there was his appearance as a theatre critic in the 1993 filmed-in-Vancouver TV feature The Sea Wolf. Reeve was only 52 when he died in 2004.