LAPD vice detectives DiVinci (Jim Belushi) and Rodriguez (Tupac Shakur) have a pretty good racket going. They sell cocaine to drug dealers and then, once they get their money, they murder the dealers and take their drugs back so that the cocaine can be resold. The murders are written up as being “gang-related” and because no one cares about dead drug dealers, Divinci and Rodriguez don’t have to worry about anyone actually investigating their crimes.
This all changes when they kill the wrong dealer. It turns out Lionel Hudd (Kool Mo Dee) was actually an undercover DEA agent and now that he’s been murdered, his partner (played by Gary Cole) is investigating the murder. Needing a patsy to take the fall, they arrest a homeless man who is known as Joe Doe (Dennis Quaid). Joe can’t even remember what his real name is and, because he’s intoxicated when he’s arrested and interrogated, it’s easy for DiVinci and Rodriguez to talk him into believing that he killed Hudd.
At first, it seems like a perfect plan because the only people that the citizens of Los Angeles care about less than gang members and drug dealers are the homeless. But then it turns out that Joe Doe is actually a wealthy surgeon and his family hires a prominent attorney (played by James Earl Jones, so you know he’s good) to defend him. Meanwhile, the stripper (Lela Rochon) who DiVinci and Rodriguez coerced into identifying Doe as the murderer is having second thoughts. And so is Rodriguez.
The plot of Gang Related may be convoluted and sometimes difficult to follow but that works to the film’s advantage as Divinci and Rodriguez find themselves plunging further and further down the rabbit hole of their own lies. The audience may be confused but so are they so everyone’s the same page. It seems like no matter what scheme DiVinci comes up with to try to cover for his own crimes, there’s always an unforeseen complication and most of the film’s narrative momentum comes from watching two corrupt cops go from being cocky to being desperate to save their own lives as their maze of deception becomes increasingly difficult to navigate. Neither DiVinci nor Rodriguez is a likable character (though Rodriguez is, at least, troubled by what he’s become) so there’s a lot of pleasure to be had by watching these two finally face justice.
Gang Related was Tupac Shakur’s final film and it was released over a year after his death. It’s a B-movie but it’s a well-made B-movie and Shakur gives a good and complex performance. So does Jim Belushi, whose mounting desperation is really something to see. Gang Related may be a B-movie but it’s portrayal of two criminal cops being empowered by a corrupt system is still relevant today.