It’s nice to walk into a movie with zero expectations and be pleasantly surprised. Sitting down in the theater to screen Deuces Wild, the new ’50s-set greaser film from director Scott Kalvert, I was steeling myself for a long two hours. I was ready to be hit with a potent mix of pretty-boy actors with oh-so-retro pompadours and MTV-style directing that seems to accompany said pretty-boys in every movie lately. Imagine my surprise to find a genuine artifact of old school pulp storytelling; something not seen since the days of the drive-in. Take away the color and the naughty language and you would have a movie that could have easily been made in 1953, so true to its drive-in roots is Deuces Wild.
Really, the only major problem I had with the film is that the plot is a near mirror image of the plot from West Side Story, minus the snazzy dancing. Two gangs, the titular Deuces and the evil Vipers, are fighting for turf on the mean streets of 1950s Brooklyn. To make matters worse, the Vipers have started a small-time heroin operation that, in it’s inception, was responsible for the death of Deuces leader Leon’s (Dorff) little brother. Meanwhile, Leon’s OTHER little brother, Bobby (Renfro) has fallen in love with the sister of one of the main Viper leaders, Jimmy Pockets (Getty). So they’ve got the whole Tony-and-Maria thing going for them. Add to this the local mob boss (Dillon) who’s running things behind the scenes and you’ve got one convoluted plot. However, plotting errors aside, the movie works. The reason it does is solely because of the fine ensemble cast that’s been assembled. Let’s look at the players:
STEPHEN DORFF: He plays the heroic good guy here and gives quite possibly his best performance in a long while. He simply oozes charisma and charm, making it easy to see why a gang would naturally form around him. He exudes leadership and was the perfect choice for this role.
NORMAN REEDUS: The yin to Dorff’s yang, Reedus plays the villainous Viper leader who’s just been released from prison with a major league grudge. His performance is what being a movie bad guy is all about; he’s slimy, mean and just plain unpleasant to be around. Reedus plays him with a real kicks-dogs-and-grandmothers-for-fun type of menace.
BRAD RENFRO: The younger brother, the hot head, the romantic lead. Renfro turns in what is unquestionably his best work in this, coming off as a young Sal Mineo with a more pissed-off aura. We can feel his pain and see it clearly on his face. If Renfro can stick to movies that can really showcase his apparent talent, I think he’ll go far.
FAIRUZA BALK: I generally don’t like her as an actress, but here she turns in an aching performance as the girl who just wants to get away from all of this. Her only demerit is for the really bad make-up job on her arms attempting to disguise her tattoos.
DREA DE MATTEO: She’s good as Leon’s girl, but she plays the same role that she plays on “The Sopranos.”
JOHNNY KNOXVILLE: Has maybe 10 lines. Really shouldn’t be in the ads for this. It is notable however, that he’s listed as one of the stunt men in the credits, as well as an actor.
The other thing that bears mentioning is the spectacular fight scenes. They’re absolutely bone crushing and look about as real as I’ve seen a fight look since the schoolyard. So all in all, is this a great movie? No, of course not. It’s a fun, much-better-than-you’d-expect kind of affair that will be completely ignored this weekend when it opens against Spider-Man. It’s a shame and I hope maybe it will find an audience on video. If not, well… I guess we can always hope for the return of the drive-in