BULLY (director: Larry Clark; screenwriters: Zachary Long/Roger Pullis/based on the novel “Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge” by Jim Schutze; cinematographer: Steve Gainer; editor: Andrew Hafitz; cast: Brad Renfro (Marty Puccio), Bijou Phillips (Ali), Rachel Miner (Lisa Connelly), Michael Pitt (Donny), Kelli Garner (Heather), Leo Fitzpatrick (Hit Man), Nick Stahl (Bobby Kent), Daniel Franzese (Derek), Larry Clark (Hitman’s Father); Runtime: 106; Lions Gate Films; 2001)
“It’s a disturbing film, but it takes us nowhere.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Larry Clark, the director of Kids, has created another movie about troubled young people and how alienated they are. This time the kids are not from Manhattan but from south Florida (in real-life Hollywood, Florida). It’s based on a true story, a murder that took place in 1993 that a group of pleasure-seeking, repulsive, and mindless teens committed. If it wasn’t a real murder case we were seeing, then all the in-your-face shock scenes would be hardly worth seeing. The problem that still remains with this alienated teen story is that all the horrors that present themselves to the featured teens: apathy, explosive violence, vulgar language diatribes, rampant free sex and drug use, is not dealt with by the director except to passively tell the kid’s story from their warped prospective. The result is a pointless film. After they haplessly kill the bully in a gruesome manner– who cares what happens to them!
The comfortable suburban kids have nothing to do but ride aimlessly in their cars, do drugs, go to malls, and play video games. They have made themselves into zombies, as they are all self-absorbed and could care less about anyone else. They do not understand what they are doing and since they are without too much grey matter, all are confused and when the chips are down act cowardly. These are kids with families who seem like they are blind and can’t deal with the obvious problems their kids have.
It’s a disturbing film, but it takes us nowhere. It only gets across how shallow the lives of the kids are and how satisfied Clark is with showing us only such surface material without any inclination to dig further. The film acts as a bully to the viewer in the same way the bully did to his friends. It’s one big gross out, as it rubs our noses in this shit and then has the audacity to say you better like what you are smelling. If only the filmmaker had some sense of purpose or sensitivity to the situation presented, then maybe he could have done something with this revealing look at these mental midgets with major psychological disorders and no help from their community.
The film keys in on the on-going abusive relationship of two boys who knew each other all their life: Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl) is a potential college student and the bully who repeatedly humiliates and beats Marty (Brad Renfro) in public and in private, even though Marty is bigger and stronger. Marty is a hunk who enjoys sex and surfing and has no career ambitions. He’s a confused high-school dropout, working in a convenience store with Bobby, but who doesn’t have the energy to stop this abuse and can easily be talked into doing things he shouldn’t be doing.
Marty can’t get his strict Catholic parents to listen to him and to move away from Bobby, while Bobby’s authoritative father is convinced that Marty is a bad influence on his son and is unable to talk to his son in an honest way. His solution to the boy’s disturbing attitude is to threaten to move and to also hold out hope they will go into business together only if he graduates from college.
The boys’ attitude toward the opposite sex is dehumanizing. Soon after meeting two slutty girls in their workplace, the boys take them for a car ride resulting in an instant bang in the backseat for Marty with Lisa (Rachel Miner) and fellatio for Bobby with Ali (Bijou Phillips) in the front seat. Bobby will later on rape both girls. He rapes Ali, the young temptress with a child. She offhandedly tells her date rapist that her parents raise the child and she has nothing to do with the baby, as she has learned nothing from her failed three week marriage and continues to play with dangerous relationships. Her best friend, the calculating Lisa, is in love with Marty, so much so that she doesn’t openly complain when Bobby also rapes her– fearing she will lose her man if she tells.
The insecure Lisa becomes pregnant and decides that the only solution to her problems is to kill the antagonistic Bobby. She gets together a sad-sack crew of losers, stoners and a would-be gangster to lure Bobby out to a deserted stretch of the beach, where they awkwardly kill him by stabbing and bludgeoning him with a baseball bat and then throwing his body into the canal.
The film suffers from having no point of view except the same emptiness as the one the teen killers have. It was a mindless film about a mindless crime, and since it had nothing to say but show these teens as they go into action–What is there to say? It was just an awful example of a filmmaker thinking he could stand on the sidelines with his camera exploiting the weak-minded teens and let us be voyeurs, as we look at a film that is approaching kiddie porn and look at this inert group in action and lap it all up as if we were seeing something meaningful on the screen. All we saw were a group of obnoxious losers revel in sex, flaunt their stupidity and show a lack of appreciation for culture. They get pulled into a senseless crime they didn’t have the stomach for or a real reason to commit. That the bully might have been a repressed homosexual who got his kicks from taking his best friend to a gay strip club and making him dance there and that his relationship with him might have been a homo-erotic S&M one, is never drawn out and expanded to bring meaning to Bobby’s evil nature. It was left up in the air, as was every substantial thing about the kids in this film. At the film’s end, I know as much about this group as I do about any vacuous gang of teens hanging around a mall in Broward County. The only thing I’m sure of, is that they all deserved each other.
REVIEWED ON 10/29/2001 GRADE: C –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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