By Rob Blackwelder
Known best for lowbrow comedies, Jamie Foxx gives a respectably potent performance as the death-row title character in this made-for-cable drama that traces celebrated attempts by the co-founder of the Crips street gang to make up for the harm he's done.
Nominated for Nobel Prizes in peace (for his treaty-based gang truces) and literature (for his books aimed at steering kids away from crime), Williams educated himself in prison and turned an unexpected friendship with a determined biographical journalist (played here by Lynn Whitfield as prim and self-serious) into a chance to give back to his community from behind bars.
Unfortunately, director Vondie Curtis-Hall covers all this in preachy, pedestrian shorthand, with Williams' self-tutoring being little more than a montage, his book series becoming an easy overnight sensation, and a whole lot of rhetorical statistics about gun violence and expository plot advancement thinly disguised as dialogue. Dramatic contrivances are transparent (Whitfield's own son is at risk of becoming a gang-banger himself), real-life events are exaggerated (how could a visit from human rights activist Winnie Mandela "hurt his case"?), and other facts are whitewashed (Williams claims to have started the Crips for altruistic reasons, and despite his reformation, he is still fighting his murder conviction instead of just seeking a reduced sentence).
The story here is fascinating and perhaps even important, but it deserved better than this paint-by-numbers, highlights-reel-like TV movie.
** out of ****
(93m | NR)