Friday, November 11, 2016

Rethinking Reeve

Street Smart 1987

In 1987 Christopher Reeve was looking to expand his movie career beyond the Superman franchise. New York was still suffering astronomical crime and decay. AIDS was the misunderstood plague and the closeted mayor Ed Koch was in his third term. Street Smart, a movie about a dishonest journalist, a murderous pimp and the colorful street life of New York when Times Square was still exciting and not in a Disney way was relevant for the time.

Street Smart 1987

Street Smart was a personal project for Reeve, he had purchased the rights to it four years earlier and struggled to get it produced. He only agreed to do the last Superman movie so that Cannon Films would bankroll Street Smart for him. The movie had a limited opening in March of ‘87 and was only shown in 207 theaters before closing. It was a minor film that only grossed just over $1.1 million. Just a few months later in July Superman IV would open also starring Reeve and Street Smart would be forgotten.

In the same year Three Men and a Baby, Fatal Attraction, Beverly Hills Cop II and Good Morning Vietnam would all gross over $100 million at the box office to illustrate how poorly Street Smart did by comparison. However, box office receipts are not the only indicator as to whether or not a film is any good.

Imagine Morgan Freeman as a killer pimp. He was incredible in the bad guy role.

Street Smart was a clever film that never found an audience despite positive reviews. The only recognition it ever achieved was the much deserved Oscar nomination of Morgan Freeman for best supporting actor. The weekend it opened audiences were more interested in watching Lethal Weapon, Platoon and Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Even Christopher Reeve, the heroic Superman, could not persuade audiences with his star power to see his thriller with him cast as a New York reporter.

Almost thirty years had passed and I had never heard of this movie until last week. Once I watched it, I realized I had missed out on this excellent movie and it was as if I had discovered a collectible camera or book in a thrift store at some ridiculously low price.
This movie captures an era of New York street life that's gone.
From the clothes to the setting this is a beautiful movie to watch.

Some of the appeal I will admit is my nostalgia for the clothing, my attachment to the pre-internet and cell phone world, my romanticism of the gritty Manhattan I never got to experience as a teenager in rural Georgia in ‘87 as a freshman in high school and the stunning beauty that was Christopher Reeve.
I had a wind breaker just like that.

The script is not perfect and there are a couple of plot holes, but  this is a well done movie that is entertaining and intelligent. It stands up better today than anything Mel Gibson ever made and Christopher Reeve though being a rather stiff person was actually a good actor that never got much respect. Perhaps it was because of the Superman success or from his paralyzing horse jumping accident eight years after this movie that cut his career short. He was Julliard trained, a veteran of Broadway, was surprisingly versatile and was the perfectly chiseled leading man, but even still he is not widely known for being a great actor. He is still known as Superman and the guy who was paralyzed by a horse.
Reeve was very lanky at 6'4.
You could wear that shirt again today and be in style.

It seems in three decades that this movie has been forgotten. You won’t find it running at midnight on a basic cable channel, streaming on Netflix (though it can be found on their DVD service) or ever mentioned anywhere when people discuss their favorite movies of the 1980s and it isn’t a cult classic either. For it to be such a good movie it is a shame that is goes unrecognized and unseen. Street Smart falls into the category of underrated movies that are very good and only film buffs seem to remember but if they were more widely known more people would enjoy them. Movies that are similarly underrated and forgotten from the 80s are Apartment Zero, Diva, Love Streams, Kiss Me Goodbye, Garbo Talks and Author! Author!
 
Reeve would write in his 1999 autobiography, Still Me, that he was “deeply depressed” leading up to this movie and changed his management company. He went on to say the Street Smart/Superman IV deal “turned out to be a disaster.” He said that no money was spent on advertising Street Smart despite the good reviews and that it quickly vanished. He described Superman IV as a catastrophe and that this period was a “huge blow” to his career.
He would go on to act in a few other films like Remains Of The Day before his near fatal accident in Virginia in 1995 but television and theatre would be his primary acting outlet as his film career never soared again.
Street Smart mentioned in the March 1987 issue of Jet Magazine. That's Anne Bancroft below in 84 Charing Cross Road which is another good movie.

Equally as good and maybe even better is Deathtrap starring Reeve in 1982. In this film Reeve plays a young playwright caught up in a murder mystery in the Hamptons. Reeve shows his acting range in this role and he’s a little too believable playing opposite Michael Caine. Deathtrap is directed by one of my favorite directors, Sidney Lumet, and the film keeps you guessing until the end as to whom did what and why.
If you happen to be looking for something to watch that you may not have seen before and you aren’t allergic to thirty year old movies that aren’t completely CGI or based on comic book characters then maybe go watch some of Reeve’s other movies.