By Merle Bertrand | February 7, 2000

Tommy (Frank John Hughes) is twenty-eight going on forty-eight. Brutally abused by his sadistic father as a child, a young Tommy got away with murdering the cretin, only to get busted for smuggling drugs years later. After seven years in the slammer, he’s paroled into a work release program run by the kindly Father Chavez at East L.A.’s St. Michæl’s School. There the newly hired cook befriends Guillermo (Lombardo Boyer), a neighborhood punk for whom the dishwashing job represents a last slender chance to avoid gang life. Tommy also meets and falls in love with Sophia (Seidy Lopez), a lovely teacher at the school. As his relationship with Sophia deepens, it draws him further into the problems faced by Steven, Sophia’s heroin-addicted gay brother. Finally, after months of playing it straight and fighting a losing battle to keep Guillermo in line, Tommy finds himself tempted by a risky opportunity to help Steven; one last go-for-broke drug run to earn enough cash to clear the troubled youth as he dries out in rehab. The choice Tommy makes in the blink of an eye will have lifelong repercussions. For some reason, this gritty but pedestrian urban drama made an impression on me. I’m not sure why, as there’s nothing tangible about Van Fischer’s directorial debut which distinguishes it from any of the other urban street dramas currently littering the video shelves. Writer Chris Ver Weil’s paint-by-numbers script is filled with a whole collection of boilerplate set-pieces and motley caricatures. Still, Van Fischer portrays L.A.’s mean streets with a certain understated, dispassionate realism, bolstered by the lost puppy empathy Hughes’ Tommy evokes. The viewer feels for this guy who, by humbly working hard and playing it straight, is making the most of his second chance at life. Yet, this otherwise unremarkable film’s harrowing conclusion drives home the depressing reminder that no matter how noble the ends may be, they rarely justify the means.

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