A winning shuffle

Movie: Buffalo 66

Our Rating: 4.00

How's a loser/fall guy equipped with a short fuse, unhealthy paranoia and no ambition beyond that of annihilating a perceived enemy supposed to start all over again after five years in state prison? Billy Brown, born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1966, decides that he ought to return to the old homestead -- with a wife in tow -- to prove to the world that his life is back on track.

Billy, as played with a laser-sharp gaze and herky-jerky intensity by independent film regular and former Calvin Klein model Vincent Gallo, has a problem or two. He can't find a place to relieve himself after getting out of prison, so he infiltrates a tap-dance studio to use their bathroom and kidnaps Layla (Christina Ricci), a faux innocent in a low-cut baby doll dress and high heels. Finally back at home, he realizes that mom (Anjelica Houston) is too busy with Buffalo Bills fandom to notice and dad (Ben Gazzara) is appreciative only of the opportunity to paw the teen-ager.

"Buffalo 66," a one-man show written, directed and scored by Gallo, is a loopy fringe film that details the hopelessly dysfunctional protagonist's rush toward self-destruction and/or redemption. The movie is a first-rate showcase for Gallo, who injects his character with a scruffy street-smart edginess. He's simultaneously annoying and easily able to induce our sympathies.

Ricci effectively illuminates the sweetly seductive trailer-park queen who initially is intimidated by the wannabe tough guy and then decides to jump feet first into deceiving his parents. Layla overplays her role, encouraging Mr. Brown to sing his cheesy version of "Fools Rush In," and making vigorous small talk with Mrs. Brown. She spins a wild tale of working as a typist for the CIA and falling in love with CIA operative Billy, whose friends include the President.

Gallo's crusty gem is spiked with offbeat camera techniques, including flashbacks that radiate out from a square in the middle of the screen. We learn that Billy was imprisoned as the indirect result of a $10,000 bet on the Bills during a Super Bowl game. A bookie (Mickey Rourke) allows him to live in exchange for taking the rap for a mobster's crime. Billy winds up blaming all his trouble on the Bills place kicker who blundered a last-minute field goal.

An indie film in the best sense of that description, "Buffalo 66" is driven by a careening plot that takes viewers down unexpected highways and byways, and blessed with an offbeat suburban-Americana sensibility that easily defines its filmmaker as a true original.


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