"Deuces Wild," a late-1950s period piece directed by Scott Kalvert ("The Basketball Diaries"), was reportedly shot in 2000, but is only now seeing release. In the meantime, several of the movie's young stars, including Frankie Muniz of "My Dog Skip" and TV's "Malcolm in the Middle," have grown both physically and in commercial viability. Was the wait worth it?
Yes, for that segment of the audience that is sure to go ga-ga over endless rumbles. Something of a refried "West Side Story" with far more grit but none of that film's joyful exuberance (and, uh, no musical sequences), "Deuces Wild" relies on pointlessly extended orgies of hand-to-hand combat in which leather-jacketed toughies play dirty with baseball bats, chains, switchblades and their fists. Viewers keen on loosely structured melodrama centered on dysfunctional families (missing dads, addled moms, teens with zero at-home guidance) may appreciate the film, too.
For the rest of us, Kalvert's underachievement amounts to a rather tired exercise in nostalgia, with plenty of clichéd dialogue and lots of opportunities for star spotting: There's Matt Dillon, himself a former denizen of lost-boys flicks ("The Outsiders," "Rumble Fish"). There's Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy on HBO's "The Sopranos") and Drea DeMatteo (the latter program's Adriana). And isn't that Deborah Harry, the Blondie singer and occasional actor, nearly unrecognizable as an older woman who is addicted to Christmas music and convinced that Santa Claus lives upstairs from her? Yes.
Moody lighting is as much a character as anyone else in "Deuces Wild," and Oscar-nominated cinematographer John A. Alonzo pours it on from the get-go, in an overblown, sentimental opening scene that establishes the movie's central conflicts. Leon (Stephen Dorff), the leader of the Deuces gang, is seen wailing for his mother and dragging home the body of his brother, Allie Boy (Blake Bashoff), who has died of an overdose. (Later, we see flashbacks of the kid, pale and unconscious at a playground.) Marco (Norman Reedus), leader of rival bad boys the Vipers, had something to do with the overdose, and local crime kingpin Fritzy (Dillon) may have been involved, too. Leon, concerned about the welfare of his younger brother, Bobby (Brad Renfro), vows to keep the mean streets clean of "junk."
Flash forward several years, and Marco is preparing to leave prison and carry out a vendetta against those he believes were responsible for sending him to jail. Bobby, all grown up and tired of living in his big brother's shadow, is beginning a romance with Annie (Fairuza Balk), sister of Jimmy (Balthazar Getty), who has been leading the Vipers while Marco was in prison. Leon, meanwhile, is in semi-retirement from the thug life, protective of his now-alcoholic mom and happily in love with his blonde-bombshell girlfriend, Betsy (DeMatteo).
Father Aldo (Pastore), the kindly neighborhood priest, advises against more fighting, but his pleas fall on deaf ears: There are wrongs to be righted and an endless cycle of revenge to be pursued. Bored by all the fighting, I couldn't help thinking it was too bad these kids didn't put down their fists, get jobs, save up, buy their own homes and get ready to cash in when gentrification came to their part of New York City. But that's another movie.