(Almost a Crime) Film Review: BOYS (1996)

By Anthony Moretta

While gutting my old movie library, I gave a fresh look at Stacy Cochran's adaptation of James Salter's short story "Twenty Minutes." Maybe adaptation is a little strong. It's more like connected to, derived from, influenced by. Whatever. If you're starting with Salter, you're starting in the right place. But, Cochran takes some wrong turns, including a nauseating amount of '90s college radio songs (although, I was a Smoking Popes fan, so their "Gotta Know Right Now" at the end is okay). Mostly, Cochran tries to pack muscle and flesh into Salter's skeletal story, but doesn't quite make it.

"Oh, fuck this!" little Murphy (Spencer Vrooman) shouts while schoomates Baker (Lukas Haas) and Cooke (Charlie Hofheimer) check on Patty Vare (Winona Ryder), unconscious and fresh from her fall off a horse in the middle of the weeds. And by the time we get to Patty's story and near fatal crash with big league pitcher, Bud Valentine (Skeet Ulrich) - told in flashbacks - I'm with Murphy. Cochran did well to start the picture with shots of John C. Reilly, who plays Officer Kellogg Curry, trying to piece together Valentine's missing person case. Reilly is the film's greatest asset and like all other promises made, is tossed away in favor of forced sub-plots, especially one about Baker and his jerkoff dad (played with all the "Godammits" you can count by Chris Cooper).

There's something that made me buy this DVD ten years ago. Something, I say. I like Haas a lot and the rest of the guys are swell (except for Wiley Wiggins, who can't act worth a shit). Ryder glimmers the chops she showed in a triplet of popping performances six years earlier in Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, and Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. The car crash, Patty's vague history and James Le Gros as Patty's sketchy pal, Fenton Ray. All good things. I guess I was sold on the coulda been's. I'm not one to dwell on content. I really don't give a monkey's tit about plot so long as it's done well. But, this really needed to be about Baxter and Patty on the run from the law and lament. It's almost a crime movie in that respect. Almost. Cochran wasted a neat tale by trying to unravel the mystery of the injured chick at the center of Salter's story when she should've been concentrating on our couple in distress.

Cochran flashed a brain by choosing Salter as her source and could have chanced genius by taking a cue or two from Terence Malick's Badlands (1973). It didn't have to be Boys. We get it. Some guys are dicks and some aren't. It needed to be 'A Boy and Girl.' You think it's getting there after Baker bangs Patty at the carnival, but Cochran brings it back to boarding school and blahs. By grounding the flick in further abandon, Cochran's exploration of celebrity and aggression in the character of Valentine, rebellion and personal license in Baker and Patty, and the determined futility of small-town self-importance in Officer Curry would have been served hard on a warm silver plate, flanked by olives and pita and all things delicious, instead of reaching back for weightless jabs.

Cochran crams undertones and subtext like she's dressing a room in flypaper, hoping something sticks, and missing the right focus that would've have jettisoned this flick to greatness. Maybe. John Sayles she isn't (who is, really?). Sayles is always able to hit big themes with simplicity and subtlety (to understand my point, check out the gifted dress scene between Mary Steenburgen and Lisa Gay Hamilton in Honeydripper [2007]). But, if only Cochran went for the crime guts instead of heartfelt half-fulls, the comparisons may have been more favorable.

Anthony Moretta is from Brooklyn, NY and writes about '70s crime films at Goodbye Like A Bullet. His writing has appeared in Out of the Gutter Online and will be featured in the upcoming anthology, Unfashioned Creatures. His independent film project, Travels, is currently in post-production and he's also developing an original comic book series.