I love exploring the retro-vibed, digital terrains of Tubi, as it takes me back to the simpler, analog days with a video membership card in my hand, perusing the shelves, examining the VHS sleeves for a Saturday afternoon of movie-binging.
Needless to say, in today’s digital distribution realms endlessly supplied with films by way of digital cameras (and now, smartphones), the films discovered are not so much a rough diamond, but a chunk of pyrite. As a matter of my own, personal review policy: If I discover—or am assigned—a small indie movie that fails to resonate, I won’t post a review. There’s nothing gained by calling out the shortcomings of one’s heartfelt passion project, be it action or comedy, or a hybrid of both. I have to believe in the work.
Producing an action film—in this case a dark-comedy action film—on a tight budget isn’t an easy task (usually maxing at one million in budget). So while those today digital productions aspire to become a Shane Black industry-calling card under the production eye of Joel Silver and directorial reins of Richard Donner, there are, again, more cubic zirconia than precious gem stone under the streaming loupes.
When it comes to budget-tight actioners, while I was taken to snotty task by a troll or two in regards to my review, I stand by the work of writer-director Steven C. Miller with his serviceable action-thrillers, such as the Bruce Willis-starring First Kill (2017), the Nicolas Cage-starring Arsenal (2018), and the Aaron Eckhart-starring Line of Duty (2019). My same critical stance holds for the work of Prince Bagdasarian’s morally-screwed up character action romp, Abduction. I also felt noted urban music video director Nick Leisure turned in a fine set of frames with A Clear Shot and Anthony Ray Parker’s (TV’s syndicate Hercules and Xena franchises) industry calling card Lone Star Deception was another solid, against-the-budget action-thriller. Randall Emmett’s Precious Cargo giving Mark-Paul Gosselaar a starring role worked well, as well. On the comedy end, I felt Camilo Vila provided Jaleel White a solid, leading man comedy role with 5th of July, while Mehul Shah’s Nana’s Secret Recipe was an also an enjoyable watch.
So, when you’re on an entertainment budget and searching for something new and fresh, a little time and patience in the streaming-verse pays off. Of course, having those marquee names on the box—well, these days, a digital avatar—always helps entice my hitting that big red streaming button. Give me actors I know and respect for their commitments to their roles—no matter how big or small—be they on a career up-and-coming or on a downward slide—I am watching your flick.
Such a film is Hub City.
Best pitch-described as Ice Cube’s Friday meets Lethal Weapon, this effective, budget conscious (one million) action comedy stars the always watchable Charles Malik Whitfield (part of the starring-recurring casts of The Guardian, Empire, and Supernatural; stellar in one of his earliest roles as Otis Williams in the NBC-TV mini-series, The Temptations), along with the deserves-his-own-series Cisco Reyes (guest roles on TV’s CSI: Miami, Numbers, Leverage, and Rizzoli & Isles).
Originally under-the-radar released to festivals and VOD platforms in 2018 as Compton’s Finest, this fifteenth directorial effort (he’s also written sixteen films) by the prolific Dale Stelly has relaunched this September to the Tubi platform as Hub City (known as since the city is the almost-geographical center of L.A. county) to capitalize on actor Charles Malik Whitfield’s well-deserved, renewed awareness as result of his current work on NBC-TV’s hit series Chicago Med. Whitfield stars alongside Cisco Reyes as Detectives Kevin Blackman and Antonio Vargas (know your ‘70s actor homages; I know, the actor is “Fargas”) working—with comical effect—the Hub City beat on the search for Columbian drug lord Silk Delgado (the always stellar, 120-credits strong Roberto “Sanz” Sanchez of TV’s NCIS, Criminal Minds, Chicago P.D., Without a Trace, The Closer, and the Law & Order franchise) flooding the streets with a new, deadly designer drug: the cocaine-based “The Devil’s Breath”. During the course of their investigation, Blackman not only comes to discover his combative stepson is involved with Silk Delgado (“I have a ‘job’!” he screams), he endures the wrath of Silk after killing his son in a botched sting.
Rounding out the solid cast in support roles is Lavell Crawford, a pisser of a stand-up comedian who caught my eye a few years back on Comedy Central (do check out his “Grocery Store” and “Mama Was Old School” vignettes from his Can A Brother Get Some Love DVD). Crawford has since come to a find a larger, mainstream audience courtesy of his co-starring support as Huell Babineaux on AMC-TV’s hit series Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, as well as living his dream as a cartoon character (THUNDERCATS!) on Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Here, he brings on a hilarious turn as Bubbles, the harmless ne’er-do-well friend of our put-upon detectives. Equally stellar is the-I-want-to-see-more-of Erick Nathan (in a completely different role in the soon-to-be-released horror Beyond Paranormal) as the Snoop Dogg-inspired, low-level street hustler Coldwater Pimp (who spews more comical-acronyms for the word “pimp” than I realized existed).
As is the case with any low-budget film, there’s a few minor faux-pas: A few edits, most fades, felt a bit abrupt-to-awkward. There were also a couple sound issues (a room echo that’s an easy fix in-post, but budget concerns most-likely prevented a fix). A couple performances were a bit weak, but certainly not of an unskilled, thespian-tragic level that you sometimes see in indie-streamers. All in all, for my first film exposure to Dale Stelly’s work, I find him to be a solid, competent director who knows how to work his tight budget to bring us a film with a solid set and production design as he extracts the best from his unknown-to-known actors. In the cinematography department, Brazilian-bred filmmaker Felipe Borges keeps everything well-shot, peppered with an occasional creative shot that keeps it fresh, but doesn’t overwhelm the watch with too much cleverness (one intelligent shot: the POV of an eye-patched character is ever-slightly blurred against the view of the other character; very nice, indeed).
Since we’re on a budget, sure, the action isn’t to the crazed level of Lethal Weapon (eh, your critical mileage my err to side of the Bay-os strewn Bad Boys franchise) or any of its quick-to-market direct-to-DVD knockoffs, but this debut script by Tony D. Cox is a well-structured work that provides his characters plenty of solid, comedic lines that bring on the out-loud chuckles. Hopefully, this Tubi digital-relaunch—in conjunction with Charles Malik Whitfield’s rising star and Lavell Crawford bring the Breaking Bad fan base to the digital troughs—more streamers will discover Hub City and be turned on by Tony D. Cox’s writing. The next time I see his name on a film, I’m streaming that movie, as Cox is a writer to watch for. As for director Dale Stelly: I look forward to his next film and I hope he’s afforded a lager budget for his next film. This is good stuff from everyone involved. Steam it.
The ending teases a possible sequel with Kevin Blackman and Antonio Vargas—knowing they’re pulling a several month’s suspension—play with the idea of going into the private eye business. And Coldwater proclaims his pimpin’ days are over. So, a modern day Starsky and Hutch—with Coldwater as their “Huggy Bear” and Bubbles along for the ride? Hey, Bubbles cleaned up with his lawsuit after being shot in buttocks by the cops (“That’s not a gun, that’s piece of chicken!”), so he can back the new P.I. firm. Now that’s a sequel I want to see! If this streaming relaunch clicks with audiences . . . it could happen. Fingers crossed!
You can learn more about Dale Stelly’s body of work at his official website Stelly Entertainment and follow the studio on Facebook. Dale discusses his work in an extended interview with Film Courage on You Tube.
You can free-with-ads stream Hub City on Tubi.
Disclaimer: We did not receive a review request for this film. We discovered it on our own and enjoyed the film.
Our thanks to the film’s writer, Tony Cox, for the positives vibes, in the comments.
Yes, the best is yet to come for you and Dale. See you both with the next films.