THE YOUNG AMERICANS, a slick, vibrant British crime picture with considerable youth appeal, unfortunately failed to pick up a US distributor and went straight to video in this country.
Harvey Keitel is John Harris, a pragmatic American DEA agent loaned out to Scotland Yard to investigate disturbing trends in the London underworld. A venerable East End gangster has been assassinated by teenagers, and cheap heroin is suddenly flooding the city, especially the rave clubs that
serve as a meeting place for a new breed of multi-racial gang thugs. A rivalry immediately develops between Harris and the straight-arrow British cop Edward Foster (Iain Glen). Harris learns the players' faces at a gangster's funeral, where he meets Sidney Callow (Terence Rigby), an old-time
criminal who resents the appearance of hard drugs and international hoods on London streets.
The investigation quickly centers on club owner Jack Doyle (Keith Allen), who works with mysterious American Carl Fraser (Viggo Mortensen), a drug-dealing crime lord who enlists teenage boys by promising to lift them out of the slums. After Harris witnesses two dirty cops fire-bombed by
dreadlocked goons on a motorcycle, he prowls the club for suspects, walking into a gang fracas involving two of the assailants. He takes them into custody, but they refuse to break and are released into the arms of the smiling Fraser. The next day, they turn up buried in a shallow grave.
Two youths, one black, one white, injured in the club melee, Lionel (Nigel Clauzel) and Chris (Craig Kelly), are targeted by Harris as potential sources of information, but Lionel is laid up in hospital and Chris demurs. Chris has begun a relationship with Lionel's sister Rachael (Thandie Newton)
and takes her to the wedding of his father (James Duggan), a petty crook. At the reception, the old man drunkenly abandons diplomacy in an altercation with Jack Doyle, who already sees himself as Chris's de facto mentor, and is discovered shortly afterward floating belly-up in the Thames. An
anguished Chris agrees to act as inside man for Harris, and he reports for work as a bartender in Doyle's club wearing a wire.
Fraser appears to take a personal interest in Chris; at a coke-fueled party thrown by the American for his boys, Chris learns that he's preparing a major heroin shipment through Doyle's club. At Harris's urging, Chris sets up the bar manager in a drug bust, putting himself in charge on the night
the shipment is to come through. As the trucks arrive, however, the bar manager is released and arrives at the club to finger Chris, who is stabbed as he tries to warn Rachael to leave. Harris moves in with his men, but Fraser takes Rachael hostage. Then Callow arrives and blows Fraser away with a
During the film's opening sequences, first-time director Danny Cannon appears to be launching a critique of American cultural imperialism in the age of global economics (it's necessarily a self-conscious critique, since Cannon rejects the art-house stylings of the Film Four crowd in favor of a
slick Hollywood aesthetic). The American cop Harris, for instance, is intrigued by the Vegas-style neon shopfronts appearing in Soho, murmuring "Hace al mismo," which he translates as "Everything eventually becomes the same"--that is, national distinctions are inevitably erased by transnational
commerce. Seen in this light, the drug trade looks like a stand-in for global capital, with its glamorous inducements for British youth; while Callow's a hidebound isolationist clinging to the disappearing values of his youth, which he sees as essentially British (the screenplay isn't quite smart
enough to make him racist as well as xenophobic).
Political themes, however, soon give way to a rather predictable masculine melodrama in which every character (save Rachael, of course) functions as a real or figurative father or son; the homoerotic implications of the rivalry between Harris and the Fagin-like Fraser are acknowledged but
undeveloped. But the film holds interest throughout, due in no small part to glossy, neon-lit Panavision work by cinematographer Vernon Layton (greatly compromised by pan-and-scan in the US video release), as well as a charismatic, sensitive performance by newcomer Craig Kelly. (Violence,substance abuse, profanity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: THE YOUNG AMERICANS, a slick, vibrant British crime picture with considerable youth appeal, unfortunately failed to pick up a US distributor and went straight to video in this country. Harvey Keitel is John Harris, a pragmatic American DEA agent loaned… (more)