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DEUCES WILD (director: Scott Kalvert; screenwriters: Paul Kimatian/Christopher Gambale; cinematographer: John A. Alonzo; editor: Michael R. Miller; music: Stewart Copeland; cast: Stephen Dorff (Leon Anthony), Brad Renfro (Bobby Anthony), Fairuza Balk (Annie), Frankie Muniz (Scooch), Norman Reedus (Marco Vendetti), Balthazar Getty (Jimmy Pockets), Debbie Harry (Mrs. Pockets), Drea de Matteo (Betsy), Vincent Pastore (Father Aldo), Matt Dillon (Fritzy), Louis Lombardi (Philly Babe); Runtime: 96; United Artists; 2002)
“A stale drama about two rival white gangs who live across the street from each other.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A stale drama about two rival white gangs who live across the street from each other. It’s directed without inspiration by Scott Kalvert and cowritten by Paul Kimatian and Christopher Gambale. The rumbles seemed more like choreographed dance numbers than real fights, perhaps an audition film for those who want to be in West Side Story. But it did play Dion and the Belmont songs in the background, and that Bronx rock singer was the rage of the city during that time period and was especially appealing to teens who pictured themselves as ‘rocks.’

This type of film has been done many times before, and this stagy version offers nothing new and seems better suited to be either a musical or not revisited unless there’s something else to be said about punks from the 1950s that is catching. The story remains unable to pick itself up off the familiar 1950s clich√© streets, and even gets ludicrous when trying to make a point about dysfunctional families. One single mom becomes an alcoholic when her junkie son is dead from drugs, another plays only Christmas songs year-round (Debbie Harry). The film is set in 1958, in Brooklyn’s Italian neighborhood of Sunset Park. That was the year the Dodgers fled to Los Angeles and it took the city a long time to recover from the shock of not having Peewee, Jackie, and Da Duke in their hometown.

A voiceover opens in a hushed serious tone and earnestly says: “The streets of Sunset Park ran red — with blood.” The event that fuels this formulaic storyline took place three years earlier when the Anthony family lost their junkie brother Allie Boy, as he was given a hotshot. The drug dealer responsible was the one-dimensional heavy Marco Vendetti (Reedus), and he has just finished serving a three year jail stretch for that. In truth, Marco was snitched out by his own drug dealer partner Jimmy Pockets. But Marco vows to get revenge on Leon (Dorff). These baddies of Marco’s belong to a gang called the Vipers. The Anthony brothers, the cool Leon and the hot-tempered Bobby (Renfro), belong to the supposedly good gang, the Deuces. Leon is the intrepid leader and bad-ass fighter, as the gang is there to protect the neighborhood and not allow drugs to be sold on their turf. Of course, it is clearly seen you could go one block away and you would no longer be on their turf.

The supporting characters include a local parish priest (Pastore) who tries unsuccessfully to act as a peacemaker. Betsy (Matteo) is the sexy girlfriend of Leon, who wants a permanent relationship. Annie (Balk) is the streetwise toughie who just moved into the neighborhood to live with her ratty brother Jimmy Pockets and her mentally unbalanced Christmas loving mother, and who becomes the girlfriend of Bobby. She is the best thing that ever happened to him and his ticket out of Brooklyn. Scooch (Muniz) is the wide-eyed adolescent with the abusive father whom Leon treats in a kind way and the kid repays him with reverence and loyalty, as he can’t wait to grow up and become a full-fledged Deuce. The older leader of the neighborhood is a racketeer called Fritzy (Matt Dillon), who makes a secret deal with Marco to bring serious drugs into the neighborhood. He controls everything in the neighborhood and nothing happens without his approval.

As a preview of what’s to come, Marco’s henchmen in the film’s opening scenes try to rent a storefront in the Deuce’s turf and cinder blocks are unfurled from the roof crushing their car and leaving them severely injured. This act has Fritzy warn Leon that he wants peace in the neighborhood and that he must not fight with Marco. But peace never comes as the film shuffles along in fake blood and phony tough guy acting until the final rumble when all the scores are settled in the old-fashioned street gang way — then the film feels secure to end in banality.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”