The spirit of old-fashioned coming-of-age fare roars in director Angel Manuel Soto’s sun-dappled Charm City Kings, as it speeds alongside Baltimore’s storied dirt-bike scene over one fast and furious summer. In a deft refashioning of Lotfy Nathan’s kinetic documentary 12 O’Clock Boys that recalls the likes of A Bronx Tale and Boyz n the Hood, the film circles a tight-knit trio of scrappy inner-city boys, prematurely forced into manhood by circumstances. Surrounding the youngsters are role models dwelling on the fringes of – and sometimes slipping through – unjust systemic cracks and a good-natured, slightly overlong tale of morality and sacrifice that earns its hefty, if formulaic lessons.
Learning them the hard way is the vivacious, animal-loving Mouse (twinkle-eyed breakthrough Jahi Di’Allo Winston). He’s a passionate teenager with dreams of joining his local area’s coolest biker squad, en route to becoming a vet. For now, in this order. Among those who thicken the plot while Mouse weighs up his priorities are his disapproving mother, a sweet, underdeveloped romantic interest, and rapper Meek Mill’s ex-con mentor who helps Mouse build his own motorcycle under his protective wing. (An inspired Karate Kid gag likens him to Mr Miyagi.)
It’s an overcrowded canvas, but Charm City Kings generously spins it into a big-hearted yarn, by both honouring Mouse’s disarming zeal and soberly addressing the community’s evolving struggles with crime and prejudiced law enforcement figures. Soto rarely hits the brakes during this often exhilarating ride: his brisk ensemble and the dizzyingly high-energy cinematography keep up the pace with gusto.
Streaming now on HBO in the US