Times Staff Writer

"Knights of the City" (citywide) is a gaudy action-musical centering on a Miami gang leader (Leon Isaac Kennedy) who'd rather rock than rumble. But can he escape the life of violence?

On a primitive, highly visual level, "Knights of the City" works well: a sort of street opera-ballet. It's no "West Side Story" or even "Streets of Fire," but in its low-budget way it's ingratiating and energetic. There's lots of singing and break-dancing, lots of rock music, and in one scene, no less than 90 performers--which Kennedy, who also helped write and produce the film, hired right off the street for the film.

As the leader of the Royals, part band, part gang, the handsome, wiry Kennedy sees his big opportunity in a talent contest staged by the beautiful, poised daughter (Janine Turner) of a local record mogul (Michael Ansara). He's dazzled by Turner, and realizes that he's outgrown gang life; that it's quite literally a dead end. Yet all the time he and his guys prepare for what they believe is their big career break, they're hounded by a vicious rival gang, the Mechanics. What's more, Kennedy's second-in-command (Nicholas Campbell), who's not musical, is profoundly threatened by the possibility that the Royals might become strictly a band, for they're apparently all the family he has ever known. In short, there's more complexity in characterization and relationships here than one might have expected.

Except for Kennedy, most of the other key actors tend toward callowness, but director Dominic Orlando's driving pace keeps the demands placed upon his cast to a minimum. (There are guest appearances by The Fat Boys, Smokey Robinson--as a contest judge, not a performer--and others.) Perhaps the film's strongest asset besides Kennedy is cinematographer Rolf Kesterman, whose gritty images of Miami's ghettos bring to "Knights of the City" an authentic, exciting atmosphere.

It's not hard to predict who's going to win the contest, but surprisingly the Royals face-off with the Mechanics after the contest, not before it. This allows "Knights of the City" (rated R for standard gang violence) to go for an unexpectedly open--and therefore potentially downbeat--ending. 'KNIGHTS OF THE CITY'

A New World Pictures release. Executive producers Michael Franzese, Robert E. Schultz. Producers Leon Isaac Kennedy, John C. Strong III. Director Dominic Orlando. Screenplay Kennedy; story by Kennedy & David Wilder. Camera Rolf Kesterman. Music Misha Segal. Choreographer Jeff Kutash. Art director Barbara Shelton. Costumes Celia Bryant, Beverly Safier. Stunt coordinators Steve Boyun, Jeff Moldovan. Film editors John O'Connor, Nicholas Smith. With Leon Isaac Kennedy, Nicholas Campbell, Janine Turner, John Mengatti, Wendy Barry, Michael Ansara, Stoney Jackson, Jeff Moldovan, Sonny Anthony, Dino Henderson, Katie Lauren, Fat Boys, Smokey Robinson, Kurtis Blow, K.C., Denny Terrio.

Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.)

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World