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Reckless (1984)
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by Jack Sommersby

"Looks Great, Less Filling"
1 stars

An underperformer at the box office, it at least launched the careers of two actors and a director who went on to far better things.

Reckless is a spectacular-looking bore. Debuting director James Foley, a USC film-school graduate, and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, a celebrated technician from Germany (he worked on the monumental Berlin Alexanderplatz), have collaborated in churning out an eye-pleasing cinematic endeavor where every scene, every frame glistens with visual vivacity. Yet before the movie is fifteen minutes old you're aware of this having an unintended consequence: the hero, Johnny Rourke (Aidan Quinn), a high-school senior, dreams of leaving behind the steel-mill-industrious Pennsylvania town he feels trapped in; but with tall towers bellowing photogenic clouds of smoke and downtown nighttime exteriors with luxurious neon lighting, your mind is going, "Why? This place certainly looks better than Pittsburgh and probably better than Philadelphia!" (The quintessential loner Johnny's favorite spot is a wooden platform overlooking the town, and it boasts a knockout million-dollar view Donald Trump would kill for.) But the inappropriate "look" is the least of the movie's problems. The empty-headed screenplay by Chris Columbus (a debut effort from him, as well) is embarrassingly derivative, borrowing heavily from The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause, but also from the excellent All the Right Moves from the year before -- there, Tom Cruise's star linebacker hoped for a football scholarship to a big-city college to escape his steel-mill town, but at least that locale was appropriately gloomy and the character identifiably three-dimensional; here, the leather-jacketed, motorcycle-riding Johnny is more standardized Brando-Dean attitudes that never coalesce into anything organic. Quinn (it's his debut, too) has a wonderfully expressive face open to the camera, and he's clearly striving for dramatic truth, but Columbus's manufactured plasticity doesn't provide him with any underpinnings to take off from. We can't tell if Quinn is talented because the movie is such a vacuous dead weight -- it's like trying to sustain a King Lear in an after-school television special. And Daryl Hannah, as the love interest, Tracey Prescott, a blonde cheerleader in an unhappy relationship with the school's machismo-fueled football captain, doesn't fare any better. Given the worst of the dreadful dialogue, "I don't want to calm down. I'm sick of calming down" she's game but hopelessly defeated out of the starting gate with a conception rather than a character.

For a while we're willing to stick with Reckless because of the charismatic leads and Foley's agile camerawork (there's a fine, virtually-wordless sequence where Johnny is informed of his father's fatal workplace accident at the mill using tactful long shots with the characters vulnerably framed in the background). But there isn't anything resembling a dramatic through-line interconnecting the scenes, which are either unplayable or too easily played. Columbus piles on ultra-obvious contrasts (Johnny's father's crassness, Tracey's mother's acquiescence) and the schematic (Johnny and Tracey frustratingly leaving their homes fed-up with their parent the exact time of night); he's so direly devoid of genuineness, so dedicated to serving up stale spare parts that the movie hasn't any gravitas -- if there's anything substantial going on it seems to be going on in between the scenes. We don't need the clearly anti-social Johnny reading in a school-psychiatrist's file that he's "anti-social"; and we could certainly do without the long-delayed fight between Johnny and Tracey's boyfriend that we know is inevitable (you don't even want to look at Adam Baldwin, as the boyfriend: this actor, who was quite moving in My Bodyguard, is playing one crude caricature). Reckless wants to be a smolderingly sensual teen drama but can't concentrate on the very basics that would ground it and allow for the necessary passion to simmer and eventually burst forth. It's overly studied, almost lacquered. There's the big sex scene, on the floor of the school's boiler room (with gaudy orange lighting more akin to a Bourbon St. bordello), and though it's tactfully juxtaposed it still doesn't work up much heat; later that night while they're going at it again in Tracey's bedroom, Johnny's stilted self-conscious dialogue "I just want to stay inside you like this forever. You know, every once in a while we could stay like this for the rest of our lives" would make even the trashy soft-core novelist Harold Robbins turn his head away in shame. I didn't believe a single thing in Reckless -- it's all surface-value poppycock calculated for cheap turn-on effects. Even a stalwart like Kenneth McMillan, in the role of Johnny's alcoholic father, is defeated by the mundane material, though it is nice to see Cliff De Young, usually cast as a villain, playing the school's sympathetic coach with understated appeal -- he's a small oasis amidst all the attitudinizing hokum.

Well, the DVD certainly does justice to the stylish visuals, but you've still got to contend with the inane context.

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originally posted: 04/09/13 10:54:34
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USA
  03-Feb-1984 (R)
  DVD: 16-Nov-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  17-May-1984


Directed by
  James Foley

Written by
  Chris Columbus

Cast
  Aidan Quinn
  Daryl Hannah
  Kenneth McMillan
  Cliff De Young
  Lois Smith



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