Michael (Nelson), a good student known as "Fresh", runs errands for drug-dealers but does not model himself on the flamboyantly preening and narcotic frazzled elder thugs who surround Hispanic heroin mogul Esteban (Esposito) and black crack lord Corky (Ron Brice). Motivated by appalling violence and an odd lesson he learns from his chess-playing hobo dad (Jackson), Fresh decides to bring down all the players who pose a threat to him and his addict sister (N'Bushe Wright), and puts a complex plan
As the hood movie genre proliferates, the conventions and cliches set down by the first wave of life-in-the ghetto movies force filmmakers either to go further in tabloid excess or come-up with new angles on the everyday round of crack-dealing, drive-by-shooting, profane dialogue, and homeboy funerals. Fresh tries to shake things up by concentrating on a 12-year-old survivor of the ghetto wars.
The first half-hour of this slightly over-long film is all character study and urban misery, but the plot snaps like a trap when a schoolgirl Michael is sweet on gets mowed down by mistake during a shoot-out. Yakin plays the rest of the picture like Mission Impossible as the junior hero manipulates a group of dangerous adults into a mutually destructive orgy of barely seen gun-play.
The strength of the piece is that it realises which aspects of its genre have been seen too many times, always coming back to Nelson's blank but expressive stare as he watches terrible things the director doesn't need to shove in our faces.