With the mean streets threatening to eat them alive, a rainbow coalition of inner-city kids (one black, one Hispanic, one Vietnamese) wavers between the redemptive influence of a community youth leader and the seemingly protective cocoon of a drug posse. Twenty-seven-year-old writer-director Robert Patton-Spruill based Squeeze, his first film, in part on his own experiences as a teacher at a Boston recreation center. Despite rough-around-the-edges production values (the fight scenes appear more playful than menacing) and sometimes-murky cinematography, this winsomely earnest film adds up to a poignant look at how poverty forces urban children to struggle with adult dilemmas. Kudos for avoiding sentimentality and an ending that, while hopeful, is ambivalent enough to be credible. B-

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