I had to see Street Smart twice back in 1987 because the first time I kept cracking up at the sight of Clark Kent without his Superman powers being threatened with a broken Yoo-Hoo bottle by Easy Reader from The Electric Company. Yeah, that moment happens in this flick as does a lot of other non-heroic, “gritty” street stuff in this Jerry Schatzberg-directed drama.
It’s actually a pretty solid but slightly flawed film that benefits from Reeve and Freeman’s performances along with a nice turn as Kathy Baker as hooker with a heart of not quite gold, but shiny enough that Reeve’s investigative journalist character Jonathan Fisher gets to spend some er, “quality” time with her in one scene. Of course, she’s one of Fast Black’s (Freeman) “stable” so she gets into some trouble with him as the film progresses. Fisher himself gets into even more trouble thanks to fabricating a feature article that just so happens to be a wee bit too close to Fast Black’s own life story…
What works are how the film flows from the scenes where Fisher sells his make-believe tale to his editor, the scene where Fast Black reads the piece and is convinced that Fisher’s article is about him and how the two men eventually meet up on somewhat friendly terms as the pimp becomes somewhat of a minor celebrity. Unfortunately, the cops and District Attorney see Fisher’s (and thus Fast Black’s) story as means to arrest and indict him for a murder and it’s here where things get tough for Fisher. With the authorities, his editor and worse, Fast Black wanting his notes (and in one case, his writing talents) for their own reasons, Fisher now has to think fast or end up disgraced, jailed or dead (or all three one after the other).
As a New York City film of the era, this one’s fun to watch but a bit tricky to gauge as some scenes are nicely gritty whole others come off as a wee bit more middle to late 1970’s than 1980’s. Granted, at that time, 42nd Street was still a nasty place to hang out and yes indeed, there was danger uptown in many forms. I think the bigger problem is both Fisher and Fast Black become unlikable, but the pimp wins out because Kathy Baker’s hooker is named Punchy and yep, she gets knocked around a bit badly, spurring Fisher to take action at almost the cost of his actual squeeze played my Mimi Rogers. There are a few twists before the finale rolls up and the credits roll and the ending is actually a bit karmic and amusing if you’ve been sucked into the tale as told.
I recall Freeman was nominated for an Oscar as well as a few other rewards (and he should have won), while Reeve got raves for his work as well. The film seems to not have done super at the box office, but this is probably due to its downbeat tone and fact that it’s about a man who lies to get ahead then has to make that lie grow in order to stay alive and ave his job. Yeah, it’s one of those movies where you get saddled with an unlikable main character who’s not so nice, but a charming villain who reveals an even more hostile side when his veneer is peeled back.
That said, I could see this getting a remake at some point down the road but not as a New York film at all, as we’ve passed those days where “seedy” and “Times Square” went hand in hand. On the other hand, set it in another borough or small town, use that same awful (but awesome) ear drillin’ guitar solo in that trailer above in the film (and its trailer) and maybe… just maybe…