As is the case with many of director Spike Lee's films, especially the better ones, the issue of race is at the center of Sucker Free City, a 2004 pilot for an original Showtime series. In this instance, the tension is both inter- and intra-racial, as Lee and writer Alex Tse focus on three displaced young men from three very separate San Francisco cultural groups: Nick (Ben Crowley), a white kid with a straight day job and a couple of criminal hustles on the side; Keith, aka K-Luv (an exceptional performance by Anthony Mackie), a member of the African-American gang the V-Dubs; and Lincoln (Ken Leung), a junior member of the Chinese Mafia who spends most of his time extorting payoffs from local businesses. That these three and their respective crews will eventually cross paths is inevitable, but it happens in ways both expected (when Nick's family moves into the predominantly black Hunter's Point neighborhood, they're immediately harassed, and worse, by the V-Dubs) and otherwise (K-Luv's aspirations as a CD bootlegger leads to alliances of a sort with both Nick and Lincoln). The cast is sizeable (look for a brief but effective turn by Jim Brown), and while the potential for rampant stereotyping is there, Lee and Tse deftly avoid it; K-Luv, for instance, is clearly unsettled by the violent ways of the V-Dubs, and his palpable inner conflict emerges in some very surprising ways. Gritty and unflinching (the film's violence is considerable but not especially graphic; the profanity is virtually non-stop), Sucker Free City mostly rings true. Alas, Showtime chose not to pick up the series, so one can only wonder what further episodes might have revealed. --Sam Graham

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