The Brooklyn-born writer Richard Price has used the city of New York as the backdrop for his novels and some have made it on to the big screen. We've had the drug drama 'Clockers', the 1960s gang pic 'The Wanderers' and the Richard Gere-starring 'Bloodbrothers'. Now comes 'Freedomland', a study of race relations in New York and one police officer's desperate attempt to keep a lid on the boiling pot.

When dazed and bloody Brenda Martin (Moore) from well-to-do Gannon appears in the foyer of a hospital in the neighbouring projects area of Dempsy, she claims that she has been carjacked. Detective Lorenzo Counsel (Jackson) arrives to interview her and is told by Brenda that her toddler son is still in the car. Counsel tells her that a carjacker would only want the vehicle and that her son will be unharmed, but he also knows that the case must be solved quickly, before the weight of the Gannon police force descends on the Dempsy projects and locks them down.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Brenda's brother (Edlard) is a Gannon detective and that Counsel - effectively the police's representative in the projects - will be held personally responsible by the locals if the authorities become too heavy handed. As the case drags on, Counsel finds himself pitted against all sides - his colleagues, the Gannon police and the residents of Dempsy - and becomes convinced that Brenda isn't telling the whole story.

With such a strong cast and Price adapting his own book for the screen, 'Freedomland' promises much but for some strange reason it has a straight-to-video feel and doesn't connect in the same way as another recent film with racial themes, 'Crash'. Like 'Crash' the story is crammed into a very short space of time and the action moves fast - sometimes too fast to let you connect with the characters.

For Jackson 'Freedomland' offers the chance to move away from the larger-than-life personas he's become famous for and play a weary detective who is haunted by his own failings as a parent. It's a great role for him, and he fares better than co-star Moore whose performance over-amplifies her character's distress when numbness would've arguably had more impact. Far more interesting is Falco in the too small a role of another mother whose son went missing years earlier - when 'The Sopranos' reaches its conclusion you'd hope that Hollywood comes calling a lot more often.

Watchable, but nothing that a good episode of 'Law & Order' wouldn't do just as well.

Harry Guerin