Have we as an audience grown jaded? ANIMAL FACTORY, the new prison drama starring Edward Furlong and Willem Dafoe, seems rather gentile. After films like the overrated THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, the life sentence they called THE GREEN MILE and HBOís searing OZ series, FACTORY seems like a nicer corner of hell then weíre used to. Are we cinematic lifers looking for new shocks? New atrocities?Furlong plays Ron Decker a naÔve 25-year-old sentenced to "ten large" for selling pot. A pretty boy, lost and lonely, heís the new fish at Eastern State Penitentiary (now THEREíS a generic prison name) soon headed for a secret meeting thatís looking to end in a gang rape. In a quick act of self preservation he makes pals with Earl Copen (Dafoe) the resident "king of the yard."
Defoe takes the fish under his wing (or should that be fin?) and shows him the ropes. With his deeply lined face and Joker-like grin Defoe looks like heís going to eat Furlong for lunch. But then an odd thing happens: they bond, but not in the way weíre used to in prison films.
It seems the stir crazy Defoe sees an intelligence and camaraderie in the new recruit that canít get with fellow inmates like Jan the Actress (a whacked out Mickey Rourke) and Vito (co-producer, ex-con turned great villain actor Danny Trejo). So while the FACTORY churns out the usual prison staples of shivs, rapes, race riots and trips to the hole, thereís something extra here too.
Based on the novel of the same name by ex-con turned crime author Edward Bunker, FACTORY reeks of authenticity if not originality (1978ís STRAIGHT TIME starring Dustin Hoffman, the adaptation of his first book NO BEAST SO FIERCE, remains a high point).
Director Steve Buscemi, (whose first foray behind the camera TREES LOUNGE, was a quiet, perfectly realized character piece) is on rocky ground here and Iím not sure he was the right man for the job. The fact is weíve seen so many prison dramas before this ó even with its "love story without sex," as he calls it ó seems a bit flat and familiar. A modest entertainment, at its best, it plays like it is, a film thatís already premiered on cable TVís Showtime Channel.The acting is all uniformly strong and itís nice to see a prison film that doesnít feature cheap shots or all one dimensional characters but all and all Buscemi would be wiser heading back to that bar in Jersey. That said, if prison flicks are your um, cup of tea, you could do worse; Tom Arnoldís finger lickiní sodomy sadist and Mickey Rourkeís drag queen silloqueties are alone worth the price of admission.-- Johnny Clay