A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Canal Street is a drama about a black Chicago teen who's accused of a white classmate's murder. Kholi (Bryshere Y. Gray) relies on his lawyer father to clear his name, while an ambitious DA pushes for his conviction. The story is told as much through talk-radio debates (celebrities like Erich "Mancow" Muller and Charlamagne Tha God play themselves) as through screen action. Expect to see teens kissing and drinking and smoking pot. While not much violence is shown on-screen, viewers will repeatedly see a murdered teen lying in his own blood, and two guns are briefly brandished -- one as a joke and one before a murder. There's also mild police brutality in a suspect-questioning scene.
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What's the story?
In CANAL STREET, black Chicago teen Kholi (Bryshere Y. Gray) is tried for the murder of white classmate Brian (Kevin Quinn), despite a lack of evidence. Kholi relies on his lawyer father, Jackie (Mykelti Williamson), to clear his name, while ambitious District Attorney Canton (Mekhi Phifer) pushes for his conviction. The story is told as much through talk-radio debates (celebrities like Erich "Mancow" Muller and Charlamagne Tha God play themselves) as through screen action. And the cast includes many veterans in small roles, including Michael Beach, Lance Reddick, Jon Seda, Will Yun Lee, Harry Lennix, Nora Dunn, and more.
Is it any good?
This drama seems well-intentioned, avoiding ugly incidents and language as it does, but it's too muddled to effectively make whatever its point may be. There are too many logic gaps in Canal Street to let slide. Perhaps the police are dirty and intentionally not investigating (did they really not canvas the neighborhood after this high-profile shooting?). But despite considerable resources, there are no forensic experts present, no weapon found, no explanation of the boy's conduct that would seem contrary to a murderer's. And viewers aren't given crucial details of the incident until the inevitable "big reveal" moment. Why is that moment "inevitable"? Because, despite clearly biased police work and extremely unrealistic courtroom dirty tricks, Jackie asserts during cross-examination that if Kholi is "a God-loving man," he'll be cleared.
Any hope for suspense -- or at least sustained tension -- is swamped by the constant buzz of talk-radio segments. As actual radio personalities debate back and forth without a shred of proof, no real reporting is shown. It's all noise. The intrusions of music and proselytizing further hamstring any dramatic momentum. That said, a few notable moments by the likes of Beach and the film's overall goodwill save it from being impossible to watch.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the subject matter of Canal Street. Is it timely? Do you think it's intended to tie in with current events? How does it compare to other thematically similar movies?
Did it bother you that viewers weren't given basic details of the incident until the movie was well along? Why or why not?
Why do you think the real-life talking heads/radio pundits got so much screen time here? Do you think the filmmakers were making a statement by putting them front-and-center? When following a news story, do you listen more to people like them or to reporters? Do you know the difference? Does the film?
- In theaters: January 18, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: September 3, 2019
- Cast: Mykelti Williamson, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Beach, Bryshere Y. Gray, Kevin Quinn
- Director: Rhyan LaMarr
- Studio: Smith Global Media
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including some bloody images, drug use and teen partying
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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