Out of three original movies since their launch (American Pickle and Unpregnant, I count Class Action Park as more of a documentary than movie) CHARM CITY KINGS is easily HBO Max’s best. And most of you, including me, probably haven’t heard of it. For me to describe it easily to you, it’s a 2 hr youngster, gangsters with dirt bikes, redemption drama. IMDB describes it with the following: “Fourteen-year-old Mouse desperately wants to join the Midnight Clique, an infamous group of Baltimore dirt-bike riders who rule the summertime streets.” This Midnight Clique, what you can garner from my description, they rule the streets both physically AND metaphorically. And while the movie does relegate to gangster group and youngsters trying to avoid a life of crime cliches during its runtime, and the movie drags just a tiny bit in the second half, the movie keenly kept my attention the entire run time, I thought it was very entertaining, the acting is top notch and the direction is visually striking. I haven’t heard of actor Jahi Di’Allo Winston, apparently he is great in a television series called Everything Sucks! but he’s fantastic here as Mouse, and I’ve heard of Meek Mill, I’m not too familiar with his regular music except when it’s in movies like Creed or Spring Breakers, but he’s a pretty damn good actor as well. However if you are looking for mainly dirt bike action sequences & stunts, other than a pretty neat chase at the beginning where the camera glides across the inner city effortlessly and the end credits, it was lacking just a little bit. Director Angel Manuel Soto, who I’m not familiar with, does a remarkable job with the rest of the film, there is neat camera work even in the tightest of spots, and I look forward to his future career.
For me though, not having that many dirt bike action sequences worked, because it easily could’ve been a movie that was all stunts, action and no substance. This has plenty of substance. The screenplay was written by Sherman Payne, who apparently has written the worst episodes of both Shameless and Season 3 of Scream The TV Series (yikes). Charm City Kings stretches his craft for sure, but that probably had something to do with the story was thought up by Barry Jenkins, whose film Moonlight won best picture at the Oscars several years ago (deservedly so although I would’ve loved for La La Land to have one) and even though I didn’t much care for If Beale Street Could Talk, it was written and directed well for what it was. Now Barry Jenkins is doing a live action CGI sequel to Jon Favreau’s terrible shot by shot CGI live action remake of The Lion King and all I have to say is…good luck with that. Anyway, the film is really really good for something straight to streaming. It’s not masterful or even great, but it’s very good. The movie even made me choke up a bit. Mouse has a side job as a veterinarian before he gets involved with the clique, so you can see everything that is coming from a mile away, but at least they didn’t totally abandon his vet skills like so many movies have done before, hoping you forget about a character’s gifts so that they can bring it back in an emotional climax. I also would’ve liked to see a bit more with the female love interest for Mouse, but at least it had a completed arc. But it’s the Winston and Mill show here and their chemistry and their scenes together make Charm City Kings for what it is, not so much the king of streaming movies, but a worthwhile charm.