Eric D. Snider

Deuces Wild

I accuse films of being generic and unoriginal on a regular basis, but rarely have I seen a movie so determined to check off every cliché on the list as "Deuces Wild." It has every element of the kind of movie it is, and none of the heart, personality or spirit.

The kind of movie it is, is a drama about teen-age Brooklyn gangs in the summer of 1958 -- "the summer the streets of Sunset Park ran red with blood," we are told by our narrator, Bobby (Brad Renfro). Bobby is a hot-headed, passionate member of the Deuces, and it is his lot to fall in love with Annie (Fairuza Balk), the sister of one of the leaders of the rival Vipers. (If you prefer to call them the Sharks and the Jets, I don't think anyone would blame you.)

There is tension in the air because Viper Marco Vendetti (Norman Reedus) is about to get out of prison. Three years ago, he sold some bad drugs to Bobby's brother Alley Boy (Blake Bashoff), killing poor Alley and making Bobby and his other brother Leon (Stephen Dorff) determined to keep drugs out of their neighborhood.

Marco has already sent emissaries, though, clearly intending to set up a new operation. Whether Bobby and Leon and their fellow Deuces can keep the streets clean -- while simultaneously battling the Vipers -- is the question at hand.

The first moments of the film establish how reliant it will be on movies like "West Side Story" and "The Outsiders." It's a flashback, and Leon is carrying his dead brother Alley through the streets in the pouring rain. He's hollering out, "Ma! Ma!" Ma comes to the street and wails over the demise of her baby boy. It plays like a parody -- to open your movie with such histrionics is surely a bad idea -- but lo, they are serious.

If the film had stuck with its initial plot of the Deuces' war on drugs, it might have gotten interesting. Instead, it retreats to the heavily trod territory of escalating warfare between gangs, offering nothing fresh to the standard, wearying mix of violence, tragedy and domestic strife. This guy's dad's an abusive alcoholic; these girlfriends are sick of their guys fighting all the time; this Italian-descent priest warns the boys that nothing good can come of this; everyone's got names like Scooch, Punchy and Little Jack.

The performances are average and workable, nothing more. By my count, there are four "Sopranos" cast members involved. How eager they must be to return to the excitement of that show, after laboring in the creative wasteland of "Deuces Wild."

Grade: D+

Rated R, abundant harsh profanity, a lot of gang

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