Directed by: Scott Kalvert
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, Fairuza Balk, Frankie Muniz, Matt Dillon, Norman Reedus
It's amazing how lone cowards imagine themselves to be heroes when they join with other cowards and become a pack. The pack mentality among teenage boys has created its own cinematic genre: the gang movie. Dueces Wild is the latest entry in the genre, a curious '50s-retro film that is both depressing and pointless, but mesmerizing to film lovers in a Mean Streets way. (Possibly because Mean Streets' director Martin Scorsese was the executive producer? Definitely because it's the last movie shot by Hollywood cinematography legend John A. Alonzo -- Harold & Maude, Chinatown, Norma Rae -- who imbues the film with his usual enigmatic amber hues.) Deuces takes place in Brooklyn in 1958 -- the year the Dodgers left Brooklyn for L.A., leaving a lot of New Yorkers with nothing to root for in the hot, smarmy summer. Boys without stadium baseball, it seems, will take to beating people up on the streets with those useless baseball bats. "Before gangs had guns," the film's promo warns, "they fought with guts." (Remember, they pay people to write those lines!) Guns or no guns, gang members are hot-headed, ill-educated, going-nowhere losers. Deuces Wild tries to humanize a few of them by spending screen time on their emotional problems and their terrible family backgrounds. It's a tribute to the director (Scott Kalvert, The Basketball Dairies) and his lead actors that Deuces actually accomplishes that goal, but in the end -- like the death of another dope dealer -- so what? Stephen Dorff (who was fantastic as the evil Deacon Frost in Blade) is the tragic gang leader who will do anything to keep heroin off his block. Shades of West Side Story (but with Stewart Copeland's pulsing marching-gang music instead of Leonard Bernstein operatics), younger brother (Brad Renfro, Apt Pupil) falls in love with the sister of an enemy gang member. Played by Faruza Balk (The Craft ), Annie is the only character in the movie who actually speaks Brooklynese: In fact, she pours it on as thick as her non-smear Chinese red lipstick, but you forgive her because she and her girlfriends really do look totally chic in their skin-tight toreador pants. Smooch, the kid, is winningly played by Frankie Munoz, who was so great in Big Fat Liar. The bad guys are headed by low-level hood Fritzi Denetti (Matt Dillon) and ex-con Marco Vendetti (Norman Reeduz, Blade II). But the real villains in this movie are off-screen: They are the fathers -- or should we say the idea of fathers? -- because in Deuces, adult men are irrelevant. They're either completely absent -- which is why their wives and children suffer so much -- or they're models of perpetual violence and abuse, or in the case of the parish priest, they're ineffective. Thus violence reigns: Mothers go insane, boys die, and the only ones who can escape are those clever enough to steal and not get caught.