Fresh came out in 1994, the same year as Pulp Fiction. I want to mention that because Samuel Jackson has a supporting role in it as a chess playing father to the titular character. Based on what characters wear, and how everything is “stupid” this and “stupid” that you know this was released in the early 90’s, but I didn’t anticipate it being the same year. It is just amazing how one movie can completely change the trajectory of an actor’s career. It’s also worth noting how timeless Pulp Fiction still is to this day whereas you definitely feel the age on Fresh, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Urban movies about the plight of black youth were really coming into their own around this time, with the big first one being Boyz in the Hood. I remember watching that on pay per view when I was a kid, noticing how many f bombs kept exploding in my face (The Last Boyscout was another one of those memorable f bomb raids on my innocent mind). It was a legacy that had its time and place. Fresh is a standout film from that era with performances that are authentic and a storyline that’s a little different from the rest.
Fresh gets entangled as a drug runner for two competing drug lords. He’s different from other kids because he cares about his education and wants to keep his good attendance. He recognizes this sort of lifestyle isn’t going to take him far even if he’s told it will. Once he learns his junkie older sister has relationships with both leaders, he makes an attempt to win her back from their influence by pitting them against each other. The chess motif is pretty intense here. Fresh is literally an excellent chess player because he was taught by his dad, who still gives him lessons at the park. Techniques to win the game of chess can also be applied to the game of life. What is kind of funny about the father-son dynamic is you learn how his father hasn’t seemed to heed his own advice. You’d assume with all his scholarly wisdom he would get out of the rut he’s in. But that’s what makes his character so interesting. He means well for his boy but he’s got problems of his own. The way he earns money is beating others at chess. He puts up pictures of Bobby Fisher on the wall of his mobile home and tells Fresh he’d beat him if he ever sat down for a speed game at the park. You think this guy might have a few delusions of his own. The final scene of the film when they’re together playing chess at the park ends the film on just the right note and leaves open the possibility there will be more growth between them.
For the things this movie does right, I wish to god someone warned me about the gratuitous dog violence. I recalled reading about a dog fighting scene but somehow missed the memo regarding Fresh strangling a dog, then shooting it twice with a .45. Director Boaz Yakin completely flips the script on us with that one and makes us re-consider our protagonist. It doesn’t ruin the film but it’s inexplicable and sad. You totally crossed the line with that one, Boaz. Hopefully there’s nothing like that in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.