We gave it an A-
The most harrowing portrayal of urban unrest since Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Riot dramatizes the 1992 L.A. melee from four ethnic perspectives: In ”Gold Mountain,” a Chinese-American man (Mako) defends his liquor store against looters; ”Caught in the Fever,” brilliantly scripted by the late Joseph B. Vasquez (Hangin’ With the Homeboys), sets a surreal Latino-teen romance amid the chaos; ”Empty” tracks a white LAPD cop (a coolly unsympathetic Luke Perry) who defies orders to pull out of South Central; ”Homecoming Day” concerns a buppie (Mario Van Peebles) whose father died in the 1965 Watts riots and who struggles to keep history from repeating itself.
Although each segment was written and directed by different people, Riot is amazingly cohesive. The film seamlessly entwines documentary footage with re-enactments, and the story lines overlap in shocking ways, a la Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. The image of L.A. that emerges is a melting pot that’s boiling over. Each group speaks its own language; the only common vocabulary seems to be the F-word and the N-word.
Like Showtime’s recent Drunks and Losing Chase, the stunningly cinematic Riot merits a theatrical release. Sadly, it probably won’t get one. Theater owners might fear the explosive subject matter would cause riots. A-