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Gang Related Blu-ray Review

Gang Related (1997) movie poster Gang Related

Theatrical Release: October 10, 1997 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Jim Kouf

Cast: James Belushi (Det. Frank Divinci), Tupac Shakur (Det. Jake Rodriguez), Lela Rochon (Cynthia Webb), Dennis Quaid (Joe Doe/William McCall), James Earl Jones (Arthur Baylor), David Paymer (Elliot Goff), Wendy Crewson (Helen Eden), Gary Cole (Richard Simms), Terence "T.C." Carson (Manny Ladrew), Brad Greenquist (Richard Stein), James Handy (Capt. Henderson), Kool Moe Dee (Lionel Hudd), Victor Love 9Hooper), Robert LaSardo (Sarkasian), Perry Anzilotti (Vic), Gregory Scott Cummins (Clyde David Dunner), Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. (Cutlass Supreme)

Buy Gang Related from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD

When Tupac Shakur died in September of 1996 at the age of 25, he left behind not only music that would grant him immortality but a burgeoning film career as well.
Shakur made his big screen debut as a member of Digital Underground in 1991's much-maligned Chevy Chase vehicle Nothing But Trouble. From there, he landed lead roles in Juice, Poetic Justice, and Above the Rim, R-rated dramas that did nothing to undermine his street cred. Two additional crime movies -- fully filmed prior to his death -- arrived in 1997: Gridlock'd co-starring Tim Roth in January and Gang Related in October.

Though it assigns top billing to James Belushi, Gang Related was the more dramatic and yet more coolly received of the two. It was written and directed by "Grimm" creator Jim Kouf, in between penning the franchise-launching hit action comedies Stakeout and Rush Hour. Gang Related was the third of thus far only four directorial outings for Kouf, whose other screenwriting credits include National Treasure, Snow Dogs, and George Clooney's recent real-time thriller Money Monster.

Belushi and Shakur star as Frank Divinci and Jake Rodriguez, two dirty police detectives in an unnamed major metropolis (presumably Los Angeles, where it was shot). Frequent partners and close friends, Divinci and Rodriguez have a pretty effective system in place, which has them selling drugs to big time drug dealers, then killing those dealers and coming away with both the cash and the narcotics. These cops rationalize killing people by recognizing that they're killing bad people who would bring greater harm to the community. And they're making money in the process, which helps fuel Divinci's dream of relocating to Hawaii and Rodriguez chip away at the $27 thousand gambling debt he owes a loan shark.

"Gang Related" stars Tupac Shakur and James Belushi as homicide detectives trying to find someone to pin a murder they performed on someone else.

Unfortunately, Divinci and Rodriguez's secret life hits a snag when their latest kill, Lionel Hudd (Kool Moe Dee), turns out to be an undercover DEA agent. The fallout is swift and assigned to the homicide, the partners look for someone to pin the crime on. The most obvious suspects all have alibis for the night in question, but Divinci then encounters a bearded derelict known only as Joe (Dennis Quaid). The cops liquor up this hard-living hobo, plant the murder weapon, a .44 caliber pistol, on him and ease a confession out of him. They then get Divinci's girlfriend, stripper Cynthia Webb (Lela Rochon), to identify Joe in a line-up.

But as we know from Hitchcock films, so many things can go wrong when trying to cover up a murder. And they do here, as the murder weapon pilfered from evidence complicates a DA's case against another known criminal. Then Cynthia, who knows Joe as a harmless neighborhood figure, goes missing. And "Joe Doe" is discovered to be William McCall, a respected doctor who was presumed dead seven years ago after disappearing in the wake of the death of his wife and kids. The McCalls' highfalutin family lawyer (James Earl Jones) is brought in to strengthen the defense in what was expected to be an open and shut case.

Gang Related is surprisingly quite good for a movie that didn't seem to attract much notice, impress many critics, or advance any careers. It's a gritty urban thriller, but one which takes greater interest in story and characters than violence and twists.

Things change (that's the way it is) when Arthur Baylor (James Earl Jones) begins defending wrongfully accused family friend William McCall (Dennis Quaid).

In his final film role, Shakur demonstrates a raw talent you would have liked to see developed further. It's tough to remember Belushi, who has always been haunted by the shadow of his revered and deceased older brother, was capable of dramatic fare like this. He's best known for the long-running and probably uninspiring "According to Jim" that people who don't like sitcoms might point to as a reason they don't like sitcoms.
And his filmography is full of lowly family films and animation voiceover. But he makes for a fairly compelling leading man here, a cop with a well-defined but sliding moral code. The film is also noteworthy for being a rare instance of Dennis Quaid playing against type. He spends most of the movie tanned and bearded almost beyond recognition.

Gang Related also includes some nice supporting work from '90s fixtures Wendy Crewson (The Santa Clause, Air Force One), Gary Cole (Office Space, The Brady Bunch Movie), David Paymer (Quiz Show, Amistad), and James Handy (Arachnophobia, The Rocketeer).

None too surprisingly, the film includes some of the music of 2Pac, most noticeably and curiously a censored version of "How Do U Want It" playing at the strip club where Cynthia works.

Fifteen years after it was released to DVD by MGM, Gang Related returns to print this week after years of unavailability in new DVD and Blu-ray editions from Olive Films.

Gang Related Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: July 19, 2016
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Also available on DVD ($24.95 SRP)
Previously released as MGM DVD (November 20, 2001)
Blue Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Gang Related looks quite good on Blu-ray. The 2.35:1 film doesn't boast the clarity, sharpness, and detail of brand new films, but it isn't plagued in any way greater than some very minor digital artifacts. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack isn't as commendable, feeling a tad hollow and underwhelming, but the fact that it's in full 5.1 is welcome enough. English SDH subtitles are kindly included, though in sampling them I did find them to be strangely and surprisingly riddled with typos and inconsistencies.

In one of his final interviews, Tupac Shakur discusses his views of the police as shaped by his many run-ins with them. The Gang Related Blu-ray menu is straight up gangsta.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Though the case does not mention it, the Blu-ray includes the same two extras that accompanied Gang Related on DVD,
but it presents each in high definition. First is the film's original theatrical trailer (2:06), which is obviously welcome.

Then there is a making-of featurette which bears the title "The Shining Soul of Tupac Shakur" onscreen. This enjoyable 9-minute, 52-second piece is comprised of a mix of cast and crew talking heads and behind-the-scenes footage. The highlight, naturally, is what must be one of Shakur's final interviews, given that this production wrapped just two weeks before his death. He likens cops to gangs and discusses how his many varied experiences with police guided him in this role.

The static, silent menu uses a nice film still of the two leads.

Accompanying the disc, whose label adapts the cover art, is a booklet promoting the Olive Films catalog and enabling you to sign up for the company's mailing list.

Jim Belushi and 2Pac Shakur: two of America's most wanted in the same motherfunkin' place at the same motherfunkin' time.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Gang Related falls off a little bit at the end, but for the most part, it remains a plenty engaging film both as a dirty cop procedural and a courtroom drama. Maybe it's because I grew up then, but '90s cinema strikes me as more consistently rewarding than the films of decades before and after. Even this seemingly minor crime film rivets and disarms in a way that few new movies do.

While it may or may not be a movie you're inclined to own, Olive Films' fine Blu-ray is a satisfying way to do so.

Buy Gang Related from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD

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Related Reviews:
'90s Movies: Primal Fear Jackie Brown He Got Game Senseless Virtuosity John Grisham's The Rainmaker
Written by Jim Kouf: Money Monster National Treasure Snow Dogs
James Belushi: Thief Salvador Thunderstruck Jingle All the Way
Dennis Quaid: Any Given Sunday Traffic The Parent Trap Innerspace Truth Vantage Point Breaking Away
Wendy Crewson: The Santa Clause | James Earl Jones: The Lion King
Brooklyn's Finest The Counselor Straight Outta Compton

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Reviewed July 18, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1997 Orion Pictures and 2016 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Olive Films.
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