Frank Divinci (James Belushi) and his friend Rodriguez (Tupac Shakur) are sitting in a motel room and Divinci is waxing lyrical about his dreams of being in Hawaii rather than here, something which Rodriguez cannot get his head around. Before a full-blown argument erupts, the man they waiting for arrives to buy drugs from them and after a short discussion, they come to an agreement. As the contact drives off, however, he is shot dead in from a passing car - who has killed him? Only Divinci and Rodriguez, for they have a scam going on, and being police detectives they can easily get away with it. Until now...
The nineties was the last time the courtroom drama really enjoyed success on the big screen, what with those John Grisham adaptations and the likes of Presumed Innocent, A Few Good Men and Primal Fear packing them in at the world's multiplexes. Gang Related was one of the lesser ones, despite the publicity of being the final film of one of its stars, Tupac Shakur, but has since gone onto finding a small following thanks to that aspect along with some neat plotting that puts a spin on the old corrupt cops cliché we have been offered since the seventies.
Not every cop blowing away the bad guys is a Dirty Harry, and this is acknowledged here: in fact hardly any cop who takes the law into their own hands is particularly laudable and would probably be closer to Divinci and Rodriguez than any movie hero. Belushi presents a portrait in sleaze, with a policeman who not only cheats on his wife with a stripper, Cynthia Webb (Lela Rochon) but is not above planting evidence on innocent suspects - after all, they wouldn't be suspects if he and his partner were not in the business of framing them to cover their tracks.
Of course, the film takes a moral standpoint and places the two anti-heroes (actually, they're more like villains) in hot water when it turns out the dealer we saw murdered at the beginning of the film was in fact an undercover cop thinking he had a lead on whoever was killing off dealers across the city. Which he did, but his disguise was far too good, because now he's dead. Divinci and Rodriguez are forced to find someone to pin the blame on and after a succession of potential fall guys turn out to have excellent alibis Divinci hits on the notion that arresting the homeless guy who lives in the alley outside Cynthia's apartment would fit the bill.
This unfortunate (played by an almost unrecognisable Dennis Quaid) is too drunk to know any better so he seems perfect as he goes along with whatever they say. But life isn't easy if you're going the corruption route, and soon the bent coppers are tying themselves in knots in the efforts to hide their culpability. If director Jim Kouf's script goes in some unnecessary directions, such as the revelation of the true identity of the homeless guy, then it could still have stood to be more complex as the frequent courtroom scenes are the highlights. It's here we see lawyer James Earl Jones get to the heart of the conflicting evidence, and send Divinci and Rodriguez heading to their own special Hell. Gang Related (which doesn't feature any gangs) may be a minor work, its significance in Shakur's filmography notwithstanding, but it satisfies in that everyone gets what is coming to them. Music by Mickey Hart.