Deuces Wild

"You're smart... a smart boy."

I was unreasonably pumped up for Deuces Wild. It has been so long since we’ve seen a good, nostalgic Streets-of-New-Yawk gang movie, something like A Bronx Tale, or the first act of Goodfellas. The sensationalist trailer trumpeted “before gangs had guns, they fought with guts,” which, aside from immediately bringing a bizarre and unpleasant image to my brain, convinced me that this was exactly the specimen I was waiting for.

But no: Deuces Wild has little in common with anything starring Robert De Niro. It failed to convince me; I never bought it. All of the genre conventions that I was ready to embrace with open arms — the grainy, washed-out colors, the trumped-up dialogue, the honor-among-thieves clichŽs, the gang of young hotshots fighting the mob — seemed mere shadows of what we’ve known. The hue of the time period is here, but not its spirit; we see the outlines of the characters, but they’ve been stripped of their charisma.

Perhaps it’s because director Scott Kalvert, who stirred controversy some seven years ago with his debut The Basketball Diaries, doesn’t really believe in his story, a mish-mash of David & Goliath posturing, romantic na•vete and slow-motion fight scenes. He doesn’t carry a force of conviction, and his filmmaking, filled with visual attention-grabbers that seem intended to convince us that this is serious, reflects that insecurity.

One thing we can usually expect from movies like this is a charming, charismatic, interesting Boss. The Boss, of course, is the head honcho of the neighborhood, usually a mobster, revered unquestioningly, occasionally terrorizing area outfits to maintain his authority. As played by, say, Chazz Palmintieri, or De Niro himself, the best of these have always been multifaceted characters, mixing nobility and viciousness, kindness and cruelty, into a figure who demands respect from both his movie underlings and the audience. The all-important Boss character in Deuces Wild is dumped into the lap of an unprepared Matt Dillon, whose “Fritzy” may be the most boring mobster ever seen on screen. His presence fails to even be a controlling force for the rest of the characters; he’s there because he has to be there to call the protagonist (played by Stephen Dorff, who fares somewhat better) all kinds of names.

Lest you think that Kalvert has forgotten the girl-next-door, a sizable portion of the movie is devoted to the romance between the Hot Headed Little Brother and the aforementioned Brooklyn staple. Brad Renfro, so good in Apt Pupil and Ghost World is almost unbelievably irritating as the object of Fairuza Balk’s attention, a whiny, violent brat almost on par with Hayden Christiansen’s Anakin Skywalker.

This pitiful genre movie attempt is both half-hearted and half-assed. Those are the worst kind.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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