Ross Kemp On Gangs Review
Ross Kemp on gangs. There's something very predictable about that, as thought it were a fait accompli that the one-time EastEnders hard man would find himself in the company of warlords in South America, Eastern Europe and the more lawless countries in Africa. It would have been very much better had the company responsible for this been more daring with their choice of presenter. Personally, I would much rather hear Ross Kemp's thoughts on food than gangs while Nicky Hambleton-Jones, who's unflinchingly nasty to the poor souls she drags in front of the cameras and under the knife in 10 Years Younger, seems like a natural soul mate to the heartless curs in gangs. And there does seem to be a natural bond between the candidates on The Apprentice and those with a booming business in the import and export of drugs. Perhaps one could advise the other on profit margins, advertising, new product development and project management. Anyone, in fact, but Ross Kemp.
However, Ross Kemp is who we have, dressed in the same black T-shirt and jeans that he's been wearing since first renting The Arches in EastEnders. Only that his sandals, his greying hair and the sunglasses that we wears, Larry Grayson-style, on a bit of string around his neck suggest that he's no longer capable of turning brickwork to dust by simply staring at it. As host of ...On Gangs, he's not bad. Certainly, his running with the armed police in San Salvador on a drugs bust suggests that he's well capable of doing things that you or I might not but neither is he beyond pointing out just how out-of-place he must appear at times. His comment that a big, bald white man is a rare sight in the shockingly poor and almost entirely black neighbourhood of north St Louis.
This is part and parcel of the presentation of the series. Kemp is generally good-humoured and isn't beyond laughing at himself. But neither is he beyond asking questions that this viewer would, if he ever found himself in a similar predicament, draw a line at asking. His enquiring of the general of the Numbers gang in Pollsmoor High Security Prison if, given his habit of sleeping with new inmates, he is gay must rank high on anybody's list of things not to do. It may be that three or four dozen prison wardens are just out of sight but I feel that if I had balls that size, I would need the services of a dedicated JCB driver to carry them around. And yet there's also the feeling that when he talks about chasing 'potentially armed gang members', they look as likely to be packing Curly-Wurlys as they are guns.
Still, Ross Kemp - how his greeting of, "Hi, I'm Ross!" never sounds quite right - travels from El Salvador, where he meets the Mara Salvatrucha to the neo-nazi gangs of Moscow. In between, he talks prison life with the Numbers in Cape Town and gang life with the Crips and the Bloods and a very anxious man in a comedy mask and a handkerchief draped over his head in St Louis. Kemp isn't a particularly great interviewer but one suspects that he would admit as much if you ever got around to asking him. Granted, you may have to be a member of a gang of drugs dealers, murderers and rapists in some godforsaken corner of Bratislava to get close enough to him to ask the question but, if you were, he would doubtless give you the time of day. Indeed, he's often very gracious in the company of men who are both brandishing weapons and smoking bales of marijuana but still can't disguise his surprise at being set on fire and shooting what he thinks are ball bearings at a neo-nazi only to find that his gun, unlike that of his opposite number, is completely empty.
One might not actually learn anything about gang life in Ross Kemp On Gangs but that's not really the point. The Chronic will tell you more about the Crips and the Bloods that does Kemp but this is, after all, more entertainment than documentary. What he does very well is to relate the story of one individual who has been affected by gang violence, often fatally. Be it Artur, an immigrant who was murdered on the Moscow public transport system or Robert, shot down on a street in St Louis. And he's often funny, not consistently so, but capable of pointing out the ridiculous in a situation, such as when a fourteen-year-old neo-nazi tells him that she's already killed several men. And maybe that's what Ross Kemp is for. This viewer would still have preferred some authentic gangland figures to present ...On Gangs, if only for seeing them receive their comeuppance at the ends of some genuinely scary men, but with a wry smile at things, Ross Kemp will more than do.
This was originally produced for television and 2 Entertain have done a decent if unsurprising job on releasing Ross Kemp On Gangs on DVD. Anamorphically presented in 1.78:1, it's generally in good shape with no obvious faults in the picture and with the grain coming from a post-production sharpening of the series to give it a more gritty and more film-like appearance. This does leave the colours looking bright and blacks very dark but the DVD handles things very well throughout. That said, there are no obvious highlights but Ross Kemp On Gangs is consistently good throughout. The DD2.0 audio track is much the same, decent but without any surprises, with the dialogue having a very matter-of-fact sound. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout, which are optional for all the dialogue but which are also fixed onscreen for those times when Russian and Spanish phrases otherwise go untranslated.
The only bonus material on the disc is an Interview with Ross Kemp (26m33s), who takes the opportunity to explain how he first became involved in the series, the making of it and his frequent discomfort in situations whereby he is surrounded by men with guns who are, thanks to their prodigious use of drugs, somewhat unacquainted with reality.