The plot of ABC's movie tonight is right out of Dickens: An "Oliver Twist"-like group of boys, living off the street and desperate for camaraderie, carries out criminal activities under the guidance of an older man. They are "The Children of Times Square."
Airing at 9 p.m. on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, the film offers an unnerving and evidently realistic premise, depicting what happens to many of the thousands of youngsters who, like the principal character of Eric, a 14-year-old boy from suburban Pennsylvania, run away from home each year to New York or some other big city. Having nowhere to live and no means of support, they fall prey to pushers, pimps and pedophiles.
Writer-director Curtis Hanson cuts a path through this adolescent underworld with a dark-hued story about the fates of two of its victims. Eric (Brandon Douglas) and Luis (Danny Nucci), who is looking to make some money for his impoverished family, travel different paths to arrive at the same "club," as another boy jokingly calls it, peddling cocaine for a share of the profits.
"We're in the business of giving the suckers what they want," says the Fagin of this drug ring (Howard E. Rollins Jr.). He applies the same principle with the boys, shrewdly exploiting their need for a feeling of family to help ensure their loyalty to his illegal activities.
Like the bright lights of Times Square, where they work, the fellowship and easy money initially mask the dangers that lurk beneath the surface for the boys. Hanson builds suspense through a race to see whether Eric's mother (Joanna Cassidy) can overtake him before life-threatening trouble does.
"The Children of Times Square" isn't as gritty as it might be, and the movie lacks the dynamic performances needed to make it crackle. But it sustains interest nonetheless on the strength of its unusual look at society's urban underbelly and the disturbing way that some of our children are living there.
The film was produced by Marcy Gross, Ann Weston and Irv Wilson.