(director/writer: Angel Manuel Soto; screenwriter: Sherman Payne/story by Chris Boyd, Kirk Sullivan, Barry Jenkins/inspired by the motion picture documentary by Lofty Nathan; cinematographer: Katelin Arizmendi; editor: Luis Carballar: music: Alex Somers; cast: Pacino Braxton (Jamal), Will Catlett (Detective Rivers),  Meek Mill (Blax), Kenzii Curtis (Sweartagawd), Tyquan Ford (Stro/Pug), Jahi Di’Allo Winston (Mouse), Donielle Tremaine Hansley (Lamont), Milan Ray (Shay), Chandler Dupont (Nicki ), Lakeyria ‘Wheelie Queen’ Doughty (Queeen); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Caleeb Pinkett/Marc Bienstock/Clarence Hammond; Sony Pictures Classics/HBO Max; 2020-Canada)

The title refers to a nickname for Baltimore.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The realistic but fictionalized drama about big city neglect of its vulnerable dirt-bike riding street youngsters in Baltimore is covered by Puerto Rican director Angel Manuel Soto (“The Farm”). The story by Chris Boyd, Kirk Sullivan, Barry Jenkins is inspired by the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys (2014) by Lofty Nathan, which did it better and more efficiently. The Boys in the doc belong to an esteemed dirt-bike rider street club, who are called that because they point their bike’s front tire in a perfect straight line upward — like clock-hands hitting noon or midnight, and trick ride it in the streets with noticeable noise and glitz. The subculture story in this film is written y Sherman Payne, using Nathan’s film as a starting off point.

he title refers to a nickname for Baltimore.

In the film, the club is called the Midnight Clique and the 13-year-old hero is called Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) instead of Pug, who lives with his harried single working mom (Teyonah Parris) and younger sister. The kid is named after a mouse he caught in his apartment and saved as a pet. He has dreams of becoming a veterinarian. Mouse idolized his late older brother, a club legendary rider who died in a riding accident. The gang’s leader is the ex-con just released from prison, Blax (Meek Mill, a hip-hop legend, in a superb performance). He has reformed and plans on going straight as a mechanic. Blax looks after Mouse in a fatherly way because he feels like he owes it to Mouse’s brother.

Though ponderous at times, overlong and predictably plotted, the film gets by on energy, good vibes and good bike riding scenes.

The kid has a new girlfriend (
Chandler Dupont), works for the summer holiday at a local animal hospital, must endure the unwelcome stares of Asian storekeepers when shopping, enjoys a video of trick riding scenes of his older brother, must find a way not to be taken down by the daily poverty he’s engulfed in and must deal with the institutional powers (like the hostile police). Though he has another father-figure in a benevolent white detective (Will Catlett), who keeps a friendly eye on him.

There’s no surprises in this plotless film, but Soto imbibes it with good feelings about his subjects and gets our attention about what they are faced with as minorities growing up in the ghetto
of West Baltimore.

Jahi Di’Allo Winston plays Mouse, the hero of “Charm
      City Kings,” directed by Angel Manuel Soto.

REVIEWED ON 10/14/2020  GRADE: B-