Charm City Kings: Slow Speed, by David Bax
As a movie about people riding dirt bikes, Angel Manuel Soto’s Charm City Kings at least does one of the main things right. The biking sequences are a propulsive thrill. The camera keeps pace with the speeding metal and rubber through city streets. One scene in particular–in which a character goads the cops into a chase he knows they’ll never win–is a satisfying experience on multiple levels. But there just aren’t enough such moments crammed into the movie’s otherwise by-the-numbers formula.
Fourteen-year-old Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) desperately wants to join his Baltimore neighborhood’s dirt bike crew, the Midnight Clique, that also happens to be a criminal organization to which his deceased older brother belonged. His wish begins to come true when he’s taken under the wing of Blax (Meek Mill), a veteran of the clique recently released from prison.
Charm City Kings has its bike races and drug deals but it is, at its core, a coming-of-age story (if a decidedly R-rated one). Mouse seeks the glory of the Midnight Clique but, without a father or older brother around, he’s really just desperately casting about for a male role model. He has his pick, too, ranging from Blax, the Miyagi-esque mentor who teaches Mouse to fix up bikes, to Detective Rivers (William Catlett), who wants to keep Mouse from following in his brother’s footsteps, to the other members of the clique who aren’t the least bit conflicted about enlisting Mouse in their illicit business.
Sherman Payne’s screenplay at first takes a restrained approach to the familiar material, seasoning Mouse’s life with details about his mother (Teyonah Parris), his friends (Donielle T. Hansley Jr. and Kezii Curtis, whose character has the wonderful nickname Sweartagawd) and his crush (Chandler DuPont). Soto attempts to keep these leisurely scenes lively by maintaining the dynamic camera movements of the bike scenes.
Unfortunately, that judiciousness doesn’t last long. Mouse’s corruption comes on too fast, his conflicts are too rote and the dialogue is too histrionic. The coming-of-age tale transforms into a lame and familiar crime drama for so long, there’s a concern that it will never find its way back.
Ultimately, that’s the root of the problem with Charm City Kings. It’s just too long. At more than two hours, it’s overstuffed like a Judd Apatow movie and similarly unable to hold onto its own center. By the time we get to the third or fourth terse, macho stand-off, you may find yourself thinking, “Hey, remember when this was a movie about people riding dirt bikes?”