Brendan Sexton III has the bruised-baby-fruit appeal of the young Marky Mark Wahlberg. In Hurricane Streets (United Artists), Sexton (who made a vivid impression as a would-be “raper” in Todd Solondz’s 1996 Welcome to the Dollhouse) stars as Marcus Frederick, a bike-riding boy-man asthmatic growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Marcus’ father is dead; his mother (Edie Falco) is in jail; his grandma (Lynn Cohen) runs a bar. When he’s not hanging out with his “club” of relatively innocent petty-punk friends in an old underground bomb shelter, he messes with small-time crime — stealing CDs, selling them to school kids, two-bit stuff like that.
But just before Marcus turns 15, this boy’s life becomes a cyclone of conflicts. The good news is, he falls in love with a nice girl (the graceful Isidra Vega). The bad news is, he learns his mother is in prison on a much more serious charge than he knew; his girlfriend’s father shows a violent streak; and, goaded by an angrier posse member, his friends wander more dangerously into crime.
Hurricane Streets won a 1997 Sundance directing award for newbie writer-director Morgan J. Freeman (no relation to the actor) and a cinematography award for Enrique Chediak’s observant camera work. (Chediak gives the East Village and Lower East Side a piquant, neighborly look.) Streets also won that year’s audience award. And what felt fresh then (coming two years after Larry Clark’s falser, eager-to-shock Kids) feels even more welcome now, when teens on screen have been taken over by arch, Scream-style sophistication. Freeman coaxes unaffected readings from even the greenest performers, and he shores up occasional structural weaknesses with a cool soundtrack that includes cuts by Marcy Playground and De La Soul, as well as Supple’s eerie cover of “Stayin’ Alive.” By the time Marcus and his girl try to break free, Hurricane Streets has done its work, showing how hard staying alive can be in the eye of a storm. B+