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by Jack Sommersby

1 stars

If you haven't heard of this catatonic little stinker, it's because it stinks so bad the studio actually had the good sense not to release it in theatres in the U.S.

Homeboy, despite a first-rate cast, just can't overcome a bum script, with some truly inept directing only accentuating its vapidity. The movie is shopworn and stale, like something left in the back of the pantry for way too long that was trotted out because someone wanted to try to get some use out of it before jettisoning it to the outer regions. And it can't make up its mind what it wants to be: sometimes it's a boxing melodrama and other times it's a crime picture, and neither aspect is even remotely developed in expressive aesthetic terms -- they're both dead weights that not even a Category Five hurricane could blow any semblances of life into. Of course, such stellar talents like Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken shouldn't have partaken in this erroneous enterprise in the first place; and since the movie is relatively low-budget, their participation wasn't likely motivated by a big paycheck. (Yes, Rourke's had a real-life affinity for boxing, but surely there were better screenplays out there that dealt with the subject.) And it's their loss because neither has been worse -- in their mannered performances they don't manage to pull off so much as a single genuine moment anywhere during the bloated, almost-two-hour running time. And how could they with characters so stereotypical and dimensionless that the screenwriter should've been subject to a citizen's arrest? Rourke's Johnny Walker is a punch-drunk veteran boxer/cowboy who arrives in Atlantic City for some small-time fights, and Walken is small-time grifter Wesley Pendergass trying to get together that "one big score" to live large for the remainder of his existence. Their lives intersect after a boxing match that John unexpectedly wins: Wesley's a loose associate of a fight promoter and offers to take John out to dinner; at first we wonder why since he has no financial stake in him, and we soon see that Wesley is far from the big shot he pretends to be -- he has a heap of a car and is reduced to doing an awful tap-dance number laced with equally-awful jokes in a seedy strip club, and has a flunky of an assistant who scopes out criminal opportunities like breaking into rooms in expensive hotel rummaging for valuables, and he wants John's help in a planned robbery. (There's a doggedly determined cop looking to bust him, though Wesley's such small potatoes you wonder why he expends the effort.) And there's a romantic subplot, of course: John befriends an attractive, heart-of-gold amusement-park owner who's also small-time -- her father left it to her, business is bad, and she's just getting by, like John (and Wesley). Oh, and if John, who's got a fractured temporal bone, gets seriously hit there one more time, he'll die. Suffice to say, stunning obviousness the movie embraces like a warm blanket.

It's hard to think of anything in Homeboy that isn't borrowed from countless other movies (in fact, it's more than a little bit borrowed from pulp-novelist Jim Thompson's After Dark, My Sweet), with absolutely none of it finessed -- it's strictly a by-the-numbers exercise. But even if the moviemakers weren't interested in nuance, did they have to go overboard with so much odious overexplicitness? Weary John wears a worn blue-jean jacket with holes and a long-faded bandana around his neck, live-wire Wesley dresses in godawful loud suits that even Don Rickles wouldn't have been caught dead in, and the innocent love interest is dressed so wholesomely Norman Rockwell would positively weep with envy. Punch-drunk Johnny Walker (Johnnie Walker liquor?) is also an alcoholic. (If the character were an alcoholic Indian, he'd have probably been named Old Crow.) The world is always beating down John and Wesley, so the weather's always cold and shrouded with ghoulishly-gray skies. The girlfriend makes sure to tell John that the merry-go-round she's fixing is old and broken down; and a cop, who suspects John might be in criminal cahoots with Wesley, advises him he's got to "know his apples" (i.e. know who his real friends are) right after tossing him, well, an apple. And further bludgeoning the audience is the annoying direction by Michael Seresin, who's making his directorial debut after years as a cinematographer, most notably for Alan Parker who directed Rourke to his career-best performance in the outstanding Angel Heart just the year before. Seresin keeps the camera too close in (which is even more of a demerit since he's shooting in the non-widescreen ratio of 1.85:1) and the compositions never get a chance to breathe. It's not just that the boxing sequences are appallingly staged -- we never get spatially-clear views of John's fighting style, so when his abilities are being praised by others we remain nonplussed -- but even what should be a simple scene of John drunkenly dancing on a bar is botched because Seresin's juxtapositional sense is unbelievably clunky. (He apparently didn't learn anything from an ace director like Parker.) And he can never resist going for the ultra-pretty shot: steam spilling out from manholes in the nighttime streets, fancy light streaming through windows, rain pouring down a bridge's trestles. John's got very blurred vision, as we occasionally see from his point of view, but even that's not particularly well worked out in visual terms because it's too blurrily rendered -- John wouldn't be able to maneuver even down a sidewalk, much less in the ring with a brute coming at him for ten rounds. When a true incompetent like Seresin can't even get the fundamentals right, it's him, rather than the hero's final opponent, who deserves to get KOed.

Sylvester Stallone could sneeze out a better boxing picture in his sleep.

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originally posted: 12/05/10 15:57:25
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  01-Jan-1988 (R)
  DVD: 01-Sep-2009



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