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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 10/09/1997,

Gang Related

Do we really need another corrupt-cop flick? Apparently so. Fortunately Gang Related is not the formulaic, rap-music video you'd expect from the lame trailer (don't believe the hype). James Belushi and Tupac Shakur are Da Vinci and Rodriguez: vice-squad partners who skim some extra cash by offing the occasional scumbag. When they unwittingly waste an undercover DEA agent, they scramble to find a suspect, a murder weapon, and a witness. A homeless, hapless wino (Dennis Quaid); a .44 magnum stolen from another crime scene (it could blow your head clean off); and Da Vinci's stripper girlfriend all do the trick nicely (so to speak).

But things go bad: Da Vinci botches the gun switch, Rodriguez is plagued with guilt, and then James Earl Jones appears out of nowhere (doesn't he always?) as a prestigious lawyer eager to defend the wino -- who turns out to be (get this) a surgeon from a wealthy family. Okay, it ain't Serpico, but the cinematography is very slick. Belushi is his usual Johnny One-Note as the sociopathic Da Vinci, but Shakur's sloe-eyed good looks and feral grace are worth the price of admission. Would he have made a great actor had he lived? Probably not. But here, at least, Tupac Shakur has all the makings of a great movie star. At the Cheri, the Fresh Pond, and the Allston and in the suburbs.

-- Peg Aloi