Whether it's in West Side Story or Do The Right Thing, New York has frequently been used as a backdrop to urban tragedy. Boaz Yakin's Brooklyn-set drama is another to use the stunning cinematic backdrop of Manhattan, and although in other areas it's refreshingly different, Fresh could alternatively have been called Boy N The Hood. The story concerns a 12-year-old black New Yorker, Fresh (Sean Nelson), whose life revolves around school, living in a cramped apartment with his aunt (Cheryl Freeman) and a multitude of female cousins, and running drugs round the neighbourhood. His father, Sam (Samuel L. Jackson), is an alcoholic, although that doesn't stop him tutoring his son in the ways and wiles of speed chess; a lesson that Fresh will use to good effect in life.
Fresh's sister, Nichole (N'Bushe Wright), moves out of their apartment to live with another man, but she's also attracted the attentions of a local heroin pusher, Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito), for whom Fresh works and who promises a bright future for the youngster if he stays off crack. This depressingly regimented existence is altered one day, though, when Jake (Jean LeMarre), a sidekick of cocaine dealer Corky (Ron Brice), loses his temper in a meaningless basketball game and kills an opponent half his size. A stray bullet also kills Rosie (Natima Bradley), a girl friend of Fresh.
Although he's witnessed the murders, Fresh refuses to admit anything to the police. Instead, he devises an elaborate game plan to bring Jake to 'justice'. It's a dangerous game, however, one in which he'll use all the local drug dealers - including Corky and Esteban - to gain his revenge.