Deuces Wild

2002, R, 97 min. Directed by Scott Kalvert. Starring Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, Fairuza Balk, Debbie Harry, Max Perlich, Balthazar Getty, Matt Dillon, Frankie Muniz, Norman Reedus, Drea De Matteo, Johnny Knoxville, Vincent Pastore.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 3, 2002

Like most of the rest of the participants in American culture, I get a thrill from the sight of a phalanx of Fifties rebel boys dressed in tight white T-shirts and worn-just-right dungarees. Whether prepped for a gang fight, marking their turf, or kicking their legs in the air with the flash of a West Side Story switchblade, these cadres of midcentury boys-into-men borough teens are a staple of American iconography. In these times, especially, they represent a kinder, gentler gangbanger of yore -- ducktailed rebels without causes, defenders of ethnic divisions and the sanctity of womanhood instead of the soulless late-century drive-by shooters and lethal errand boys of South American drug kingpins. That said, the new Fifties gang picture Deuces Wild gets the look and the period trappings right, but it otherwise drowns in a sea of visual and verbal clichés. These clichés may not be more abundant than in other movies of the genre, it's just that they seem more noticeable in Deuces Wild because there is little else here propping them up. The storyline is minimal, the action sequences are poorly staged, and the characters and performances are all blandly interchangeable. Likely to receive some initial notice due to the film's bevy of talent, viewers will be hard pressed to distinguish one gangbanger from another. Dorff plays the head of the Deuces, who along with his hot-headed brother (Renfro) wants to keep the streets free of the drugs that killed his brother Alley Boy years ago. Getty and Reedus belong to the Vipers gang, who want to introduce hard drugs into the community with the financial assistance of a Brooklyn kingpin (Dillon). The women all have thankless accessory roles, especially Harry, who gets to play a mentally unbalanced mom. The script by Paul Kimatian and Christopher Gambale is a flatline pastiche of familiar dialogue and plot points. Reportedly, these writers were not collaborators: Former Scorsese still photographer Kimatian turned in a script that was later revamped by Gambale. Though no matter how it was achieved, there is no excuse for lines such as this: “Of course there is a Santa Claus. He just doesn't come to Brooklyn.” Director Kalvert, whose only other feature film is the period NYC gutter story Basketball Diaries, is unable to salvage anything out of this pile-up, and, in fact, adds his own inadequacies in shooting the action sequences to the mess. Esteemed cinematographer John Alonzo (Chinatown, Scarface) is also on hand but unable to redeem anything from these filmed-in-L.A. New York City streets. Deuces Wild would have been smart to fold before it let its hand go this far.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Deuces Wild, Scott Kalvert, Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, Fairuza Balk, Debbie Harry, Max Perlich, Balthazar Getty, Matt Dillon, Frankie Muniz, Norman Reedus, Drea De Matteo, Johnny Knoxville, Vincent Pastore

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