starring Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, Fairuza Balk, Norman Reedus
screenplay by Paul Kimatian & Christopher Gambale
directed by Scott Kalvert
by Walter Chaw During the course of Deuces Wild, a bit of schizophrenic juvenilia (half nostalgic, half belittling) from director Scott Kalvert (The Basketball Diaries), there arises the uncomfortable realization that we are in the company of a "West Side Story" with trick-shots and graphic violence subbing for the Bernstein/Robbins book and staging. As mannered and artificial as the Neverland boroughs and lost-boy antagonists of Robert Wise's film version of West Side Story, what Deuces Wild doesn't have is the benefit of the traditional musical format to excuse its more gut-busting howlers. Kalvert's film is of the sort that makes one wonder which version of history includes Debbie Harry as a zoned-out shut-in singing Christmas carols year-round while daughter Fairuza Balk laments, "Of course Santa exists, mommy, he just don't come to Brooklyn no more." Moreover, if such a history ever existed, it begs the question of why anyone would ever wish to revisit it, in art or otherwise.
Leon's little brother is Bobby (Brad Renfro), who falls in love with Annie (Fairuza Balk), the sister of rival-gang ("The Vipers") member Jimmy Pockets (Balthazar Getty). Meanwhile, Marco (Norman Reedus), leader of said rival gang, gets out of prison intent on dealing H and starting fights. Many subplots (most glaringly the one about the guy who ratted-out Marco) spin off into nothing while the standard Montague/Capulet plot plays itself out with characters barely more substantial than a back-of-the-video-box blurb. With its "who's who" of "who's that" cast and its baroque action sequences defined by Guignol and the kind of editing that causes one to wonder if the projector has broken (now sped-up, now slowed-down, skipping, jumping, sparking), Deuces Wild is the kind of unwatchable camp that doesn't deserve its Renfro and Dorff. More to the point, Renfro and Dorff are in an entirely different film, one where poor Frankie Muniz as something called a "Scooch" isn't instructed to look like a gaffed toad while blissfully pedalling by on some backlot riding an ill-got two-wheeler.
A Sha-Na-Na sketch punctuated with graphic violence, Deuces Wild, inexplicably produced by Martin Scorsese, is thought-provoking not for its themes but for the fact of its existence. It fills a void (the Fifties-era street gang doomed romance) felt only by the filmmakers as it aspires to an audience as imaginary as the film's pacing and grace. Too peculiar to dismiss offhand, Deuces Wild's jarring see-saw (the pivotal scene occurs in a playground) tone makes it both disconcerting and unpleasant. If you see it, note Renfro's remarkable performance (which echoes his role in Bully)--but why would you see it? Originally published: May 3, 2002.