MOVIE REVIEW : Nothing Noble About Silly 'Street Knight'

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The almost pleasureless action picture "Street Knight" (citywide) is a vehicle for Jeff Speakman, a gun-wielding martial arts hunk whose most prominent features are shoulders broader than the Golden Gate Bridge. Looking like the poor man's Don Johnson on steroids, and acting like it too, he might be bulk enough to sink a picture on his own, but he's got plenty of support here.

Speakman is a righteous ex-cop who catches on to a truly nefarious plot: A highly intelligent group of fellow ex-cops turned sinister villains--who might have been rejected from a "Lethal Weapon" movie for being too vaguely Germanic and cartoonish--are planning to covertly instigate an all-out gang war in Los Angeles, apparently as a cover-up for their own jewelry heists. The logic behind this plot is never explained, a small favor for which the viewer can probably be grateful.

And it's the movie's fantasy vision of L.A. gangland that's the real hoot, if not an exploitative shame. In this unrecognizable alternate universe, a Latino gang called the West Side Latin Lords (an homage to the equally gritty "West Side Story," maybe?) and a black gang named the Blades have been ravaging the City of Angels with their longtime racial war. A tender truce is thrown into disarray when chief baddie Christopher Neame has his henchmen start methodically assassinating members of both sects.

Just like any movie ex-cop, Speakman quit the force because of a long-past tragic failure of duty that's too tough to bear. But our man is prodded back into action by the pleadings of a missing gang member's fetching sister, Jennifer Gatti, whose absolutely stunning fashion-model hair seems to get constant between-scene touch-ups whether she's walking the mean streets of East L.A. or has fallen into the clutches of the evildoers.

The filmmakers seem to believe that having Latino gangbangers constantly refer to each other as "homies" will suffice as authenticity-establishing lingo. The biggest laughs, meanwhile, at least locally, are likely to come in scenes where Speakman successfully stares down the guns of hardened gangstas with disarming lines like "No one benefits from war, Eight Ball" and "A gun doesn't earn you respect, Willie."

Albert Magnoli directed this foolish, resume-clouding low-budgeter, doing OK with the occasional brutal Kenpo karate scenes and miserably with the actors. There are no clues here that would remind anyone that Magnoli debuted with a well-reviewed hit, "Purple Rain," nine years ago--though the fact that Speakman's naked rear is lovingly lingered upon within the first five minutes has a touch of Prince butt-love to it, and there might even be a dash of Apollonia in Gatti's fully clothed but vacant performance.

'Street Knight'

Jeff Speakman: Jake Barret

Christopher Neame: Franklin

Jennifer Gatti: Rebecca

Bernie Casey: Raymond

A Cannon Pictures presentation. Director Albert Magnoli. Producer Mark DiSalle. Executive producers Yoram Globus, Christopher Pearce. Screenplay by Richard Friedman. Cinematographer Yasha Sklansky. Editor Wayne Wahrman. Music David Michael Frank. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for language and scenes of violence and torture).

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