Dir: Scott Kalvert. US. 2002. 97mins
Deuces Wild is a throwback. Not just because it is set in the world of gang wars in 1950s Brooklyn, but because it so happily recalls those dated rumble movies of the early 1980s like The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Matt Dillon even shows up, albeit now having graduated to a Mafia gangster role, and a cast including Brad Renfro, Norman Reedus and James Franco represents the new crop of heartthrobs in the making which then numbered Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage and Patrick Swayze. But director Scott Kalvert, whose last picture, The Basketball Diaries, has legions of fans, fails to lift the excessively familiar material out of the ordinary, while loading it down with hackneyed use of slow motion, flashback and enough fake smoke to make Ridley Scott himself groan. The cast does its best under the circumstances, but its theatrical prospects in the US where it opens today (May 3) and internationally - where its subject matter has even less resonance - are slight. Specialised adult audiences will avoid it, while teenage boys who might get a thrill out of its violence will be barred from seeing it due to prohibitive ratings. That last audience sector might give it a longer life on video and DVD.
As for rumble movies, the interest of today's audiences in such a genre is questionable. Due to less romantic contemporary movies such as Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society, the nostalgic glamour of seeing young men beating each other up over each other's turf has been superseded by the grotesque realities of futile killing and families ripped asunder.
The film starts with a prologue in which we see Leon (Dorff), the leader of a gang called the Deuces, carry his brother back to his mother's house after he has found him dead of a drug overdose. Marco (Reedus), leader of rival gang the Vipers, was responsible for dealing the drugs which killed the boy.
Three years later, the neighborhood is a relatively peaceful one in which the Deuces and Vipers co-exist without too much trouble. Marco is in prison on drug charges and the block is overseen by local Mafia sub-lord Fritzy (Dillon). But things start to change when Marco gets out and Leon's trigger-happy brother Bobby (Renfro) falls for Annie (Balk), the sister of Viper gang member Jimmy Pockets (Getty). Marco is convinced that Leon is the one who grassed on him to the police and begins a vendetta against him with Fritzy's blessing. As Leon struggles to keep control, Bobby and Annie hatch a plot to leave Brooklyn.
Kalvert and his screenwriters systematically take us to the final showdown through rumble after rumble, a riot, a rape, a customary soundtrack of 1950s songs and the atmospheric cinematography of the veteran John Alonzo, whose last film this was.
What keeps it watchable are some of the performances. Dorff is a strong presence as Leon, but Renfro is the standout. Working with an inconsistent character, he is a glowering presence, quietly burning with the vulnerability and rage born of love deprivation. Reedus is also effective as the villainous Marco, and it's interesting to see James Franco in a small part. The Golden Globe winning star of TV's James Dean biopic made this movie before upcoming parts in Spider-Man and City By The Sea, which should vault him into the major league.
Prod cos: Cinerenta, Cinewild, Unity Productions, Presto Productions, The Antonia Company
US dist: United Artists
Int'l sales: Capitol Films
Exec prods: Mario Ohoven, Eberhard Kayser, Marc Sferrazza
Prods: Michael Cerenzie, Willi Baer, Fred Caruso, Paul Kimatian
Scr: Kimatian, Christopher Gimbale
Cinematography: John A Alonzo
Prod des: David L Snyder
Ed: Michael R Miller
Music: Stewart Copeland
Main cast: Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, Fairuza Balk, Vincent Pastore, Frankie Muniz, Balthazar Getty, Norman Reedus, Drea DeMatteo, Josh Leonard, Johnny Knoxville, James Franco, Matt Dillon