Deuces Wild

“Deuces Wild” is so mind-numbingly bad you wonder if any of it is supposed to be taken seriously. The sophomore effort of director Scott Kalvert, who hasn’t been behind the camera since 1995’s “The Basketball Diaries,” “Deuces Wild” plays like a junior high school drama production of “West Side Story” minus the music, or the talent.


More like a direct-to-video release than a major film, “Deuces Wild” has been sitting on the shelf for some time. Maybe United Artist, which released the film, has been trying to find the perfect release window. So why then did they choose to release it the same weekend as “Spider-Man”?
Deuces Wild DVD review
Did they expect overflow audiences to pour into this drivel about late 1950s Brooklyn street gangs, or was their intention to drop it into theaters where it would do the least amount of damage? I suspect the later. Like “Grease,” “Deuces Wild” uses actors way too old to be playing Brooklyn borderline teens. Unlike “Grease,” it’s impossible to derive any fun out of this traditional street gang drama that looks as artificial as the characters behave and talk.

Director Kalvert fails to play off the promise of “The Basketball Diaries,” instead creating a film that comes no where near the scope or potential of that gritty street drama. Working from an extremely derivative first screenplay by Paul Kimatian and Christopher Gambale, Kalvert does little to make “Deuces Wild” more than a rehash of several much better films.

This is “Good Fellas” and “Rebel Without a Cause” lite, with the writers shooting off every clich? in the canon. “Deuces Wild” is supposed to be a nostalgic homage, but it feels more like a hack job. Not only do the characters say and do the obvious, they do so with very little passion and emotion. The cast isn’t acting but reacting, turning drama into melodrama.

Remember the old saying “You can’t make an omelet unless you break a couple of eggs”? As the film’s chef, Kalvert ends up making scrambled eggs. If you can stomach the bland performances and overcooked plot and have a taste for unintentional laughs, then “Deuces Wild” might serve your interests. However, if you have an aversion to films that rip off rather than respect source material, then you might want to send “Deuces Wild” back to the kitchen and order something else.

The writers attempt to touch on each and every one of the genre’s hot buttons, but they do so with such shameless insatiability that you want to scream. It’s like the filmmakers don’t expect their intended audience to get it, so they hammer everything home until all that is left is something flat and uninteresting.

“Deuces Wild” is set in a small neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1958, but nothing here looks real. The neighborhood is obviously a set, the concoction of art and production designers. It’s in this make-believe world that members of the Deuces do what they can to protect their turf.

The leader of the Deuces is Leon (Stephen Dorff), who along with his younger brother Bobby (Brad Renfro) and their gang try to keep the streets free from drugs and rival gangs. Leon and Bobby have a personal stake in the battle. Their older brother died of a heroin overdose three years earlier, and his supplier, Marco (Norman Reedus), is now out of prison and ready to flood the streets with drugs.

Marco is a member of the Vipers, who have the blessing of local low-ranking mobster Fritzy (Matt Dillon). Complicating matters is the relationship that blossoms between Bobby and Annie (Fairuza Balk), who happens to be the sister of rival gang member Jimmy Pockets (Balthazar Getty). Trying to keep the peace is Father Aldo (Vincent Pastore), whose efforts are met with deaf ears when the Vipers virtually wipe out a block of the neighborhood.

It’s impossible to invest in any of the characters as they come across as types. For instance, Balk recalls Natalie Wood in both “West Side Story” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” but her role is so thinly written she would have to be anorexic to make it work. Frankie Muniz ( “Malcolm in the Middle”) is stuck in the Sal Mineo role from “Rebel,” the tag-a-long kid who wants to be part of the gang and ends up being their eyes and ears on the street.

If you think the kids are out of control, check out their disenfranchised parents. Leon and Bobby’s mother is a lush who drinks away the family food budget and would seem more at home on the set of the original “Ocean’s Eleven,” while Jimmy and Annie’s mother (Deborah Harry) is in a perpetual fog, believing that every day is Christmas. With role models like this, it’s no wonder these teens have too much time on their hands.

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen



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