The very first character we meet is dead.
We meet him through a video he’s recorded. His brother, 14-year-old Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), watches the video on his phone while riding the bus in Baltimore. It’s a moment of nostalgia, but also a little foreshadowing for where the story might lead us. It is clear that Mouse’s brother loved motorcycles; it is also clear that he died. One can connect the dots quite quickly.
Director Angel Manuel Soto’s “Charm City Kings” follows Mouse’s story as he struggles to balance the love of his family, his friends and his hobbies in such a way that is common for inner-city kids. Mouse has a lot going for him, as far as most teenaged boys are concerned. It’s clear that he has been raised in a loving environment. His mother (Teyonah Paris) constantly worries over him, and a local police detective has taken it upon himself to mentor Mouse, even getting him an under-the-table job at the local veterinarian’s due to his love of animals.
And then there are his friends. Steadfast and up for antics, Lamont (Donielle T. Handley, Jr.) and Sweartagawd (Kezii Curtis) are never too far away. The three of them have a fascination for motorcycles, and Mouse often sneaks out of the house, paying his sister to be quiet, in order to see “The Ride”—a summertime tradition in which motorcyclists perform tricks in the streets and defy the cops. The most favored motorcycle gang that shows up for these performances is the Midnight Clique, a crew that Mouse and his friends very much want to be a part of. Maybe it’s the connection to his brother or maybe it’s just that the prospect of owning a bike would make him look cool, especially in front of the new girl in town, Nicki (Chandler DuPont).
Police Det. Rivers (William Catlett) sees this bike obsession in Mouse, and he does his best to steer him away from it. After all, look what happened to his brother. But someone else sees Mouse’s passion for bikes as well—Blax (Meek Mill), an ex-convict who used to be a part of the Midnight Clique and now runs a mechanic’s shop. He hooks Mouse up to work for free at his shop in order to earn himself a bike and teach him a thing or two about life along the way.
The contrast between these two mentors’ fostering techniques really adds some complexity to the film. But whether the teachable moments are well meant or, in fact, harmful to Mouse is the real question. As Mouse struggles to place his priorities, and he and his friends take measures to be a part of the gang, the stakes rise higher and higher. Mouse must learn to grow up, but he must decide how he will grow up—and that is the beauty of “Charm City Kings”.
It’s a beautiful film, with high-energy cinematography and a straight connection to Mouse’s emotional journey. This is partly a credit to Soto for his decisions as a director, but mainly praise for Winston, who absolutely will steal your heart no later than 10 minutes into the film and will hold onto it well past the credits. Honestly, the younger members of the cast are the reason to watch the film. While Paris really sells her motherly love for Mouse, Catlett and Mill don’t get enough depth in their characters to really wow us with their performances (which is more of a comment on the writing than it is for the actors).
This is a summer indie classic in the making. It’s a great gem with a little bit of action and a lot of heart. Don’t miss “Charm City Kings” at Midtown Cinema in April.
“Charm City Kings” plays this month at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.