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BILOXI BLUES (director: Mike Nichols; screenwriter: Neil Simon/from the play by Neil Simon; cinematographer: Bill Butler; editor: Sam O’Steen; music: Georges Delerue; cast: Matthew Broderick (Eugene Morris Jerome), Christopher Walken (Sgt. Toomey), Matt Mulhern (Joseph Wykowski), Corey Parker (Arnold B. Epstein), Casey Siemaszko (Don Carney), Michael Dolan (James J. Hennesey), Penelope Ann Miller (Daisy), Markus Flanagan (Selridge); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Ray Stark; Universal Studios Home Video; 1988)
“The acting honors are stolen by Christopher Walken.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A pleasantly middling and charming military comedy that never amounts to much of anything. It plays off the background of a bygone era (which it waxes poetic about with a bittersweet nostalgia). Its hero is a young Jewish soldier, Eugene Morris Jerome (Matthew Broderick), an aspiring writer from a lower-middle-class Brooklyn home. He’s a draftee in a grueling 10-week boot camp in Biloxi, Miss., a racially segregated military base. Eugene is training for World War II service during its waning days and trying to bust his cherry with the proverbial prostitute with a golden heart (Park Overall) and find romance with a Catholic girl named Daisy (Penelope Ann Miller) and survive the camp’s harsh training. It’s a sequel to Neil Simon’s other semi-autobiographical film Brighton Beach Memoirs and comes before his third one, Broadway Bound. Broderick is winsome as he recreates his same stage role, where he plays Simon’s alter ego and the film’s narrator. Simon’s work about his army reminiscences is adapted from his own play which was on Broadway from 1985 to 1986. Mike Nichols (“Wolf”/”Heartburn”/”The Graduate”) directs in a serviceable way trying to thread the needle between comedy and drama, but allows too much schmaltz and never lets it rise above its superficial social commentary and awkward character study.

The acting honors are stolen by Christopher Walken as drill instructor Sgt. Toomey, a slightly psychotic brooding tough guy with a metal plate in his head but who also has a heart. At its best moments this is a funny and poignant work, but overall the coming-of-age drama seems trite and the character study unimpressive (filled with the usual American stock ethnic cross-section types). The range of recruits put under Simon’s microscope include Eugene’s best friend in the barracks, a Jewish intellectual of principles named Epstein (Corey Parker), who becomes the target of the recruits because he’s unwilling to compromise his principles, and a dumb oafish bigoted Polack as the camp’s main bully (Matt Mulhern).

Eugene and Sgt. Toomey clash over his odd practice routines and severe discipline he issues, leading in the end to an unconvincing late-night confrontation between the two opposing forces.

REVIEWED ON 11/12/2008 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”