Charm City Kings is a gritty and adrenalized coming-of-age movie inspired by Baltimore’s real-life ‘12 O’Clock Boys’ dirt-bike crew. It will be released on Oct. 8 on HBO Max. The film follows a 14-year-old called Mouse as he strives to join a prestigious group of wheelie-lovin’ local riders, dubbed ‘The Midnight Clique’ in the film.
But Mouse, charmingly portrayed by Jahi Di’Allo Winston, finds himself slowly sucked into fast money and tragic violence after being taken under the wing of Midnight Clique leader Blax (convincingly played by rapper Meek Mill). Along the way there’s teenage romance, tragedy, and ultimately an unexpected redemption of sorts.
Remarkable for its attention-to-detail authenticity, Charm City Kings was a passion project for Baltimore-born Jada Pinkett Smith, who executive produced the film alongside her husband Will Smith and James Lassiter.
Bike Stunt Overload
But this is AutoWise, so we’re here for the bikes and the tricks. And there are plenty to choose from. It feels like there’s some sort of machine on the screen for at least half of the 2-plus-hour Charm City Kings, which was primarily shot in West Baltimore and based on the eye-opening 2013 documentary 12 O’Clock Boys.
The multi-bike (and ATV) action is mostly in scenes depicting what is called in the movie “The Ride.” This is where all the best neighborhood riders show off their outlandish skills in front of sizeable crowds every Sunday in the summer. They’re joined by a considerable police presence, including helicopters, as riding dirt bikes on Baltimore’s streets is illegal.
Charm City Kings director Angel Manuel Soto worked with 12 O’Clock Boys “godfather” Wheelie Wayne to recruit real-life local riders. Some of these also act in the film, including Chino, who plays Midnight Clique member Jamal, and Wheelie Queen – the only female member of the 12 O’Clock Boys –, who plays Queen.
“Wheelie Wayne had a huge impact on this film,” said Kevin Rogers, a former AMA motocross racer who was the stunt coordinator on Charm City Kings. “[He] kind of vetted everyone for us and helped us have the best people, who could listen, who could ride well, and who just did a phenomenal job.”
Real Baltimore Bikers, Not Actors
The majority of the Charm City Kings riders are actual Baltimore bikers, not actors or professional stuntmen. And while the lead actors couldn’t ride bikes on screen for legal reasons, Meek Mill really is a rider off-screen.
“My job there was to kind of analyze who the best riders were, who listened the best, and then help them understand what was going on,” said Rogers, speaking from his New Jersey home. “And, y’know, these guys are all so talented on bikes that my job was so much easier.”
All went well in this regard, Rogers said, with the exception of early in the filming when some local riders, disgruntled that they hadn’t been picked to participate in the film, would just come ripping through the set, uninvited.
One of the actors/riders in the movie, Marvin Raheem, who plays the bike-stealing Derrick, wasn’t even supposed to be in the film at all. He was working security on the set when it was discovered that the professional actor cast for that part had lied about being able to ride a bike. Raheem was drafted on the spot, and the very next day delivered flawless riding. Later in the movie, after a few acting lessons, he was also utterly convincing in one of its most tense scenes.
Rogers defined the role of stunt coordinator as “the person who helps coordinate and carry out the action in a safe manner, from concept to completion.” And while he’s a motorcycle and car stunt specialist, who’s worked on the likes of Ninja Turtles, Men in Black 3, and Law & Order, that action is not limited to just what most of us would regard as stunts.
“You help out with every single bit of action in the script,” he explained. “Whether it’s a mom slapping the son – which he had in this when Teyonah [Parris, who plays Mouse’s mother] slaps Jahi –, or it’s the big car chase, or it’s the fight, or it’s the Sunday Ride.”
The Sunday Ride scenes in Charm City Kings are sensory overloads for bike and stunt lovers, with off-roaders zipping and wheelieing all over the screen.
“The challenge for me at that point is to make sure that there’s always something going on in the entire world that we’re seeing. It’s not just a focus area; it’s the entire Sunday Ride,” said Rogers. “The first, huge challenge is that all the riders don’t have helmets on. So, from a safety perspective, that makes your heart stop!”
Rogers said that there were only three or four professional stuntmen involved, who served as his “boots on the ground” to help coordinate with the real riders and disseminate his instructions.
The Love of Riding
Even though Rogers’ biking background is very different to the Baltimore bikers he worked with on Charm City Kings, they found a commonality in their sheer passion for riding. He describes Chino and Queen as “by far two of the best riders I’ve ever worked with,” and the overall talent level of the local riders as “through the roof.”
“This is not my exact style of riding. I grew up racing motocross on a track; rode trails with my father, stuff like that,” he said. “[But] we all ride for the same reason: we all love riding; dirt-bike riding. It’s freedom; it’s two-wheel therapy.”
His preparation for Charm City Kings included Rogers watching the 12 O’Clock Boys documentary and hours of YouTube videos to acclimatize himself with the street tricks and techniques he’d be helping to depict on screen.
“The only difference is that my access was to riding on the dirt, and these guys, their access is to riding on the street,” Rogers continued. “It’s just a little bit different discipline, but it’s all for the love of riding. And I think that’s why we all got along so well.”
Bikes & Quads
The bikes and quads used in Charm City Kings express the hierarchy of the characters, both on the streets and within The Midnight Clique. Accordingly, Mouse starts out by buying a humble (and stolen) Honda TRX90 quad, on which he spectacularly fails to pull-off his first Sunday Ride stunt.
When Mouse and his teen buddies finally get semi-accepted into the Clique, they’re awarded Yamaha YZ85s. But established Clique members ride Yamaha YZ250Fs and YZ125s. Queen rides a Honda CRF150 R Expert, while Jamal chooses a YZ450F. The crew also uses Honda TRX250X and Yamaha Raptor 700R quads.
A slack-jawed Mouse name-checks a Kawasaki KX450F suspended from the ceiling of The Midnight Clique’s impressively-stocked warehouse/workshop. His first ride on a “proper” bike is when Blax asks him to deliver a red 2018 Honda CRF450R to a “client” on his behalf – a task which promptly goes horribly wrong.
Rogers reports that all the bikes in the movie were bone stock. But the Baltimore riders did insist on one thing – what they called on-set “roasting in” the tires. That is, burning out to partially flatten the stock knobby tires, to allow for better grip on asphalt.
The “12 O’Clock”
The stunts in Charm City Kings are stunning and varied, but nearly all revolve around pulling a wheelie. Riders variously kneel, stand (one- or two-footed), and even dance on the seat, or lean back and drag a hand on the pavement – with and without a passenger –, while wheelieing.
The “12 O’Clock” in the 12 O’Clock Boys’ name – or the “Midnight” in “Midnight Clique,” in the movie – refers to when a rider pulls a wheelie to the point where the bike is perpendicular to the ground. That is, straight up at 90 degrees like the hands of a clock at 12 o’clock or midnight.
“There is a scene where Chino is literally dancing on his seat, as he is doing a wheelie at just about 12 o’clock in the air,” said Rogers. “And you can see the joy and the smile on his face.”
Being able to pull-off a 12 o’clock is the mark of a true badass in the subculture depicted in Charm City Kings. Because the challenge of this move goes beyond simply the rider, with their back parallel to the asphalt and eyes facing the sky, navigating streets full of potentially catastrophic obstacles.
“There is a balance point on a bike. And if you’re hitting 12 o’clock, you are literally at the very end of that balance point. So just one more degree backwards, and you’re falling over backwards,” Rogers explained.
“So to keep that bike held at 12 – and at that point, you’re also dragging the rear fender – is literally saying that you have the utmost best balance on a motorcycle.”
Coming back down from an extreme wheelie is also an art form, which can prove embarrassing and painful to inexperienced riders.
Could You Be a “12 O’Clock Boy”?
For anyone inspired by Charm City Kings to try their own bike tricks, Rogers’ advice is to start off slow and safe.
“Don’t go out there and try dancing on your seat … Maybe do a wheelie first,” he cautioned. “Once you got that, maybe take it to the next level of taking a left hand off [the handlebars]. And then, once you get that, then the next step.”
So are you ready to become your neighborhood’s first 12 o’clock boy or girl? Watch Charm City Kings and 12 O’Clock Boys first, to see what it takes – and what it can take out of you.