Jonathan Fisher (Christopher Reeve) is a journalist who is seeing his once-promising career beginning to stall thanks to an editor at The New Yorker (Andre Gregory) who isn't interested in his bigger stories, just the more mundane ones he can fob him off with since nobody else wants to write them up. Fisher has a meeting with him that is not going well until he proposes, off the top of his head, an expose of the pimping lifestyle in the Big Apple for he claims he knows one such proponent of that moneymaking illegality, and the editor's face lights up: this is perfect, their readers will be fascinated to learn about a representative of the underworld that they only hear about on the nightly news...
Street Smart was a script that had been around for a long time, penned by David Freeman, before it was finally shot when star Christopher Reeve made it a condition of making Superman IV: The Quest for Peace that the Cannon studio feature him in this movie as well. As it turned out, neither film did Reeve's career any good whatsoever, the superhero flick being not merely a total flop but a focus of ridicule and a lawsuit for him into the unlucky bargain, and the pimping yarn barely released by Cannon who knew when they had been manipulated into making a project they had no real interest in and were determined not to give it any kind of push to make a success of it. But some took notice.
This was notable as a Cannon movie that was nominated for an Oscar, not a frequent occurrence it had to be said as their usual fare was dunderheaded action productions, but Morgan Freeman was skilled enough to make those who did catch this, including some on the Academy, sit up and take notice. He played Fast Black, a pimp with a personality that can be night or day, often switching in the space of seconds, which made for a formidable performance and a rare instance of a work from this studio to take prostitution with any kind of seriousness other than providing their musclebound heroes a selection of eye candy to offset the more important business of gunning down or blowing up the baddies.
That said, there remained an element of reverting to type come the last ten minutes, but before that point Street Smart was a solid lowlife drama infused with a thriller sensibility to emphasise the danger Fisher was getting into, way over his head. While Reeve was almost completely out-acted by Freeman, even in scenes Freeman was not in, that was not to say he was bad, indeed he was very well cast as the buttoned-down scribe who thinks he can get down with the life on the street to further his career when in fact he is utterly out of his depth. His discomfort when Fast shows him the grim reality of what he was now involved with was suitably cringe-making, and the two stars had a genuinely interesting dynamic of a sort not often seen on the big screen. But despite that, Reeve was not second best in the cast.
Nope, he was third best, behind Kathy Baker who played Punchy, an ageing employee of Fast who Fisher takes a shine to, misguidedly as it transpires as his girlfriend Mimi Rogers twigs and moves out, then Fast realises that his "property" is waking up to the notion being a prostitute is not the best use of her life and would like to move on, thus depriving him of income. The scene where Punchy tells him that she is no longer interested in working for him, only to be met with seriously ugly threats, is truly alarming, and superbly acted by them both; Baker and Reeve also had a nice seduction scene they managed to sell without making us forget what a mistake Fisher is making - Punchy too, when you get down to it. The trouble was, with the plot making our hero famous thanks to his manufactured association with Fast (the writer had essentially invented his article, but it fit the villain's real life profile), the denouement which saw Erik King as Fast's lackey (another fine performance) instrumental in closing down all sorts of questions was a cop-out, and silly to boot. Music by Robert Irving III, with Miles Davis improvising.