'Laws of Gravity' in force on the meanest of streets

December 09, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Take three or four young men, each with testosterone levels in the 97-octane range. Add poverty, hopelessness, contempt for authority and, finally, lots of guns. What you have is a recipe for catastrophe and the script for a terrific movie about a catastrophe, "Laws of Gravity," which opens today at the Charles.

Of a piece with its more famous brethren "One False Move" and the soon-to-arrive "Reservoir Dogs," as derived from the original inspiration, "Mean Streets," many years back, "Laws of Gravity" is a small, mean, utterly authentic American movie about crime. We're far from romantic concepts of master criminals or suave con men here; we're on Brooklyn's savage boulevards where tattooed tough guys try to steal just enough to stay ahead of the law. Long-term planning takes them as far as tonight, maybe tomorrow when they're feeling ambitious.

Jon (Adam Trese) is the time bomb here. Seething with hostility, ready to burst into fists or go to guns at the drop of a hat, he's death waiting to happen, and the best that can be wished is that it happens to him before it happens to someone else. He loves his girlfriend but he'll beat her up in a flash if the mood comes across him. Jon is every good-looking bad boy born to raise hell.

His mentor in moral squalor is Jimmy (Peter Greene), about 30, maybe five years of joint time behind him, who's just begun to glom onto the idea that life doesn't have to be a fight every second of the time. He tries to counsel his younger pal to a mellower life style: Steal and let live, that sort of thing. It's hopeless.

Enter Frankie (Paul Schulzie), from some mysterious Southern scam. Frankie has a carful of stolen guns and wants Jimmie and Jon to front for him as they arm the riffraff for fun and profit. But somehow, right from the start, Jon and Frankie hate each other's guts. They're like young rams in heat; they circle warily, gathering courage, eyeing each other, and then with a shockingly sudden blast of speed, thunder at each other and crack skulls. Ouch! Then they do it again, only harder. Poor Jimmy tries to act as peacemaker, but he might as well be negotiating a treaty between the sea and the sand.

nTC "Laws of Gravity" is like a crap game of murder. The scenes (all filmed with a hand-held camera by cinematographer Jean de Sagonzac) are like dice clattering across an alleyway, and you never know whose number is going to come up -- but you know that somebody's will. The shooting that ends it is both inevitable and completely unpredictable, and writer-director Nick Gomez's grubby street-smart dialogue has the sense of palpable reality to it.

When you get outside of this squalid little world, the air feels fresh and sweet. You know you've been in somebody's dreadful little world, that's how real "Laws of Gravity" is.

("Laws of Gravity," only scheduled through tomorrow, will instead run through Saturday as the previously scheduled director's cut of "Blade Runner" is no longer available.)

MOVIE REVIEW

'Laws of Gravity'

Starring Peter Greene and Adam Trese.

Directed by Nick Gomez.

Released by RKO.

Rated R.

***

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