'American Me'

Cautionary tales about the ill effects of gangs and drug use are hardly new, but star/director/co-producer Edward James Olmos (pictured) has brought a relentless passion to the subject that lifts this film above the norm. It works so hard at delivering its message that it suffers somewhat as drama, but it packs a considerable wallop nevertheless. In this 1992 film about the self-perpetuating cycle of gang life in East Los Angeles, Olmos plays one of three lifelong friends--the others are played as adults by Pepe Serna and William Forsythe--who behind bars have expanded their neighborhood gang into a prison-wide one known as the Mexican Mafia (Showtime Thursday at 3:20 a.m.).

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