Given the familiarity and even, at times, predictability of the elements on view here--a multiracial high school from hell in Queens, a siege staged by six alienated students after a favorite teacher is fired, a wounded cop (Forest Whitaker) held hostage--this is mainly lively and compelling stuff, thanks to fresh, well-defined characters and the writing and direction of Craig Bolotin, who's worked on everything from Ridley Scott's Black Rain to Desperately Seeking Susan to TV's Miami Vice. The passionate and carnivalesque sense of politics reminded me at times of Dog Day Afternoon, but despite the absence of cynicism this is a 90s story in every sense. With Usher Raymond, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa L. Williams, Judd Nelson, Robert Ri'chard, Fredro Starr, Clifton Collins Jr., Sara Gilbert, and Glynn Turman. Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Chatham 14, Evanston, Ford City, Hyde Park, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, North Riverside, 62nd & Western, Water Tower, Webster Place. --Jonathan Rosenbaum

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