BULLET (director: Julien Temple; screenwriters: Bruce Rubenstein/Mickey Rourke; cinematographer: Crescenzo Notarile; editor: Niven Howie; cast: Mickey Rourke (Butch ‘Bullet’ Stein), Ted Levine (Louis Stein), Tupac Shakur (Tank), Adrien Brody (Ruby Stein), John Enos III (Lester), Manny Perez (Flaco), Jerry Grayson (Sol Stein), Suzanne Shepherd (Cookie Stein), Matthew Powers (Paddy), Larry Romano (Frankie ‘Eyelashes’), Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini (Gates), Horacio Le Don (Rico), Jermaine Hopkins (Pudgy), Troy Baudoin (Black Jack); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producer: John Flock; New Line Home Entertainment; 1996)
“A compelling low-life Mickey Rourke outing.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A compelling low-life Mickey Rourke outing. It realistically throws down on the mean streets of Brooklyn with ugly street gang violence and yet offers a sensitive portrait of a dysfunctional middle-class Jewish family. The vivid character study is built around an urban crime drama that pits Jews against blacks over drug turf. It’s based on writer Bruce Rubenstein’s own street experiences and he cowrites it with Mickey Rourke. Former music video director Julien Temple (“Earth Girls Are Easy”/”The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle”/”Mick Jagger: Running Out of Luck”) at times loses his focus on what it’s about but he helms it with surprising sensitivity (especially the family scenes between the disappointed hardworking successful dad and the loving homebody mother) and keeps the narrative down a dark path that gives it a ferocity that most Hollywood punk gangster films wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.
It was released as a direct-to-video because it fails the litmus test for both arthouse and mainstream theater released films, as in all probability the studio didn’t know how to market such a graphically violent film even though one of its stars, the late rapper Tupac Shakur, had a wide audience among certain youths. One of the film’s biggest problems is a miscast Tupac, who played the most undeveloped character in the film. His character never gets past the cartoonish stereotyped stage, as we never understand what he’s all about under all the bling, macho bluster and antsy homeboy posturing.
After spending eight years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, the hardened “Bullet” Stein (Mickey Rourke) is released from prison on parole. He’s picked up outside the prison by his vain womanizing best friend, the Jewish gangster Lester (John Enos III) and his aspiring artist brother Ruby (Adrien Brody). The boys get high on heroin while driving into the city and stop off at a project, where Bullet robs two square white boys looking to cop drugs and throws their clothes off the roof and when leaving the projects puts a knife into an Hispanic drug dealer’s eye (Manny Perez) who called the Jewish gangster out for scaring away his customers and lunged at him with a knife.
The thirty-five-year-old self-destructive Bullet is a house burglar (willing to rob neighbors) and a depressed junkie with Star of David tattoos over his body and lives in his parents’ (Suzanne Shepherd & Jerry Grayson) comfortable private house in Brooklyn with his loony brother Louis (Ted Levine), an ex-marine who served in Vietnam and came home with severe psychological problems that can’t be treated, and also lives with his more vulnerable fun loving graffiti mural wall painting younger brother Ruby (Adian Brody), whom Bullet is very protective of and tries to reason with him to make something of his talent in art rather than selling it cheaply to make signs for an outfit that runs Playland at Coney Island.
Bullet, the Irish thug Paddy (Matthew Powers) and the black drug dealer Tank (Tupac Shakur) grew up together as friends but now Tank and Bullet are bitter rivals, with Paddy caught in the middle but owing Bullet big time for taking the prison rap for him as the getaway driver in the robbery that sent him away to do hard time. The main rivals each has a death urge and a hatred blazing inside their system that compels them to go to war with each other (unfortunately we are left guessing why they hate each other, as the story never lucidly tells why). The end result, as expected, is bloody and tragic.
The film scores big not only in its gritty street scenes, but at odd moments when the troubled characters take time off their self-absorbed trip to talk to each other. Mama Stein tries her best to deal with an unhinged Louis who childishly demands she buy him an expensive stun gun, Papa Stein tells his wife in anguish that he can’t understand why all three of his sons are misfits even though he was always a good provider and tried to be a good father, and there’s the troubling conversation at the batting cage in Coney Island between an unaware Lester and a too aware Bullet who realizes after his failure to perform sexually with a hot Spanish chick that it’s all over for him (he’s dead inside) and that he would rather die than go on living as a loser.
In the hands of a more skillful director, one who won’t get sidetracked with too many splatter scenes and subplots, this could have actually been a classic gangster film instead of turning out to be more like a parody of such action films with merely interesting observations here and there but coming to no poignant conclusion.
REVIEWED ON 2/2/2009 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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