1996, R, 96 min. Directed by Scott Silver. Starring Lukas Haas, David Arquette, Arliss Howard, Keith David, Christopher Gartin, Terrence Dashon Howard, Nicky Katt, Elliott Gould, John C. McGinley.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., April 4, 1997
A scene about halfway into Scott Silver's feature film debut johns perfectly captures the main characters' lives as street hustlers. Cars pass by on Santa Monica Boulevard as John (Arquette) and Donner (Haas) slowly cruise their corner, one eye and ear on their conversation and the other on the potential clients passing by. johns offers a gritty, darkly comical peek inside the lives of these young men as they try to hustle their way off the streets. As the seasoned pro, John takes Donner under his wing, and the friendship between the two owes much to the relationship between the characters made famous by Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. While Silver's film lacks Midnight Cowboy's depth and well-paced narrative, johns does offer fine performances by Arquette and Haas, whose friendship is their characters' only salvation in a world in which trust and tolerance are absent. Of the two hustlers, John is the savvier, and his street-wise advice to Donner demonstrates his gruff affection for him. On Christmas Eve, in preparation for his 21st birthday the next day, John sets out to hustle enough money to stay overnight in the swanky Park Plaza Hotel. But things don't go as planned, beginning with the theft of his lucky sneakers (and his stash of money) right off his feet as he's sleeping in a park. In debt and now short $300, John appeals to the rather naïve Donner to call his parents for more money. Instead, Donner's parents arrange jobs for the two friends through a cousin who works at a Camelot theme park in Branson, Missouri. In spite of his initial hesitation, John agrees to accompany Donner to Branson. But before they can make their final break with the boulevard, they still need to raise some more money for bus fare, and a chance hustle sets the stage for tragedy and a rather poignant ending. Haas is a favorite of many Austin moviegoers because of his hometown roots here. He has steadily developed into a fine actor since early roles in films such as Witness, and in johns he gives another standout performance. Arquette (Scream, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) has his own cult following, and rightly so. With his edgy good looks and an abundance of energetic charm, this young actor makes even the smallest performance noticeable. Minor appearances by solid performers such as Arliss Howard as John's final client round out the film. Short on general story development but long on characterization, johns offers viewers a glimpse into the seedier side of life as portrayed by two rising talents.