Little Boy Blue

1997, NR, 107 min. Directed by Antonio Tibaldi. Starring Ryan Phillipe, John Savage, Nastassja Kinski, Jenny Lewis, Shirley Knight, Adam Burke, Devon Michael, Tyrin Turner, John Doman.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 26, 1998

Messy, confusing, and chock-full of improbable plotting, this locally shot slice of white-trash pie still manages to be affecting at times, in part due to John Frick's eerily barren production design and a freakish, thoroughly unnerving turn from Savage (best remembered as the doomed combat photographer in Oliver Stone's Salvador). Savage, in fact, is so creepy here that he puts you in mind of Michael Rooker's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Both characters plumb unholy familial depths, though in Little Boy Blue, Savage plays an emasculated Vietnam vet as opposed to Rooker's amoral road killer. As Ray West, Savage is a paranoid wreck of a man who keeps his waitress wife Kate (Kinski), their teenage son Jimmy (Phillipe), and their two young boys Mikey and Mark (Burke and Michael) firmly in his sweaty iron grip. By night, Ray and Kate run the local roadhouse, and during the day, when he's not sleeping off a hangover, Ray terrorizes the household, keeping watch for interlopers and occasionally forcing his wife and elder son to have sex at gunpoint while he grunts like a stuck pig in the background. Into the miasma of self-loathing comes a nosy hired detective (exactly who hired him and why he's poking around isn't made clear until the final reel of the film), who soon has a tragic “accident” in the men's room of Ray's bar. This triggers a slipshod investigation by the local police (headed up by Sheriff Lobo, one presumes, since nothing ever quite seems to get done and the obvious is too often overlooked) that reveals, by increments, an ever-more-twisted backstory to the West clan. Tibaldi's film scores points for its Southern gothic, bottom-of-the-barrel atmospherics and crushingly bleak tone, but the script by Michael Boston is so full of contrived coincidences and outright impossibilities that it's downright ridiculous more often than not. Why Kinski's Kate hasn't packed up and left 10 years previous is anyone's guess, and although Jimmy obviously sticks around this Family Circus From Hell to protect his cute-as-a-bug younger siblings, the credulity of the whole affair is strained from the start. As for Savage, his tic- and vein-laden performance as the unhinged, catheterized vet loops back and forth from harrowing to outlandish. Why hasn't anyone locked this maniac up and thrown the key away long before? The answer never comes, and by the end of Little Boy Blue you're so relieved to get home and shower the emotional backwash off that you really couldn't care less.

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Little Boy Blue, Antonio Tibaldi, Ryan Phillipe, John Savage, Nastassja Kinski, Jenny Lewis, Shirley Knight, Adam Burke, Devon Michael, Tyrin Turner, John Doman

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