MPI // 1990 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // November 9th, 2005
She's the victim. He's the seducer. Both are killers.
It would be easy to review the 1990 made-for-TV movie Too Young to Die? with two words: rent Kalifornia. Both films feature Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers) and Brad Pitt (Fight Club) as white-trash nomads who kill people, with the major difference being that Kalifornia is actually quite good. Too Young to Die?, on the other hand, is handicapped by a predictable and preachy story, the limitations of the made-for-TV format, and -- save for Juliette Lewis -- a weak cast. Even Brad Pitt, who owned Kalifornia in one of his best unwashed, good-looks-be-damned, look-ma-I-can-act performances, is either too young (to die??) or too underwritten to matter here. It's the type of role usually phoned in by soap opera actors looking to display their "edgy" side.
The film features Lewis as Amanda Sue Bradley (in case you weren't sure whether or not she's white trash), a 15-year-old girl living with her mother and sexually abusive father in a trailer park (in case you still weren't sure whether or not she's white trash). Let it be said that I've got nothing against trailer parks or the people that live in them; I'm merely pointing out that the film really doesn't give the viewer a chance to make up his or her mind about this girl or her predicament -- in a different movie, a nearly identical situation would be played for laughs (save for that sexual abuse thing, 'cause that just isn't funny). At any rate, Amanda Sue marries her teenage boyfriend and they move in together, but it's not too long before the boyfriend is out the door and Amanda Sue's mother takes off for Vegas. With Amanda Sue (I just love to say it over and over again...AmandaSueAmandaSueAmandaSue!) broke and out on the street, she becomes easy prey for ne'er-do-well Billy Canton (Pitt, who ne'er does well in this role), a hustler who's got her stripping for burgers before you can say "Wanna strip for a burger?"
Amanda Sue escapes the life of a teenage stripper (proof that the movie is dated? These days, she'd become a pop star) when she is taken in by a handsome military man. He moves her onto base with him and takes care of her in a romantic/paternal way -- which, given her past, you'd think she might be put off of for good. When the army threatens to discipline Military Man for shacking up with jailbait, he shows her the door. Then he asks her to walk through it. Wouldn't you know it? It's right back to Billy Canton, who drugs up Amanda Sue and talks her into killing Military Man. That's gratitude for you.
That's a lot of plot for a TV movie -- more than most current theatrical releases, actually -- so I suppose I ought to give the filmmakers credit for not just resting on a premise. At the same time, I'm not sure what it is the film is trying to say. For starters, it never does really attempt to answer the question posed by the title: Is Amanda Sue too young to die at the hands of the state, or should she be tried as an adult? Is she a killer or a victim of childhood circumstance? (More proof that the movie is dated -- back then, Amanda Sue was the exception; these days, she's becoming the rule.) Did she ever stand a chance? Questions like these are touched upon during the final monologue delivered by her attorney (played by L.A. Law's Michael Tucker), but by then it's too late. What's worse is that the movie then tries to provide definitive answers to these questions (which no doubt come courtesy of the "true story" upon which the film is based), and I'm not sure they're the right ones.
The "True Stories Collection" edition of Too Young to Die? is one of two incarnations the film has seen on DVD, which is no surprise -- I expect the rights are cheap, and (at the very least) studios can cash in by putting Brad Pitt's face on the cover. This edition, put out by MPI, is about what you'd expect from bargain-bin, "when did this actor make this?" fare -- the image is full frame and shoddy, the soundtrack is muddy, and there are absolutely no extras. This is, after all, a poorly preserved TV movie, and it both looks and sounds the part. Even at a cheap retail price, there's little to compel me to sing the praises of Too Young to Die?.
I can almost recommend the film, however, due to the work of Juliette Lewis alone. There's a reason she received so many of these kinds of roles in the first half of her career -- because she's damn good at them. I don't know of many other young actresses (then or now) who could combine this character's foolish-but-sincere innocence with a sexuality that she's got no handle on or understanding of; Lewis's first stripping scene nails both, and is as hypnotic as it is heartbreaking. It's the same trick she pulled off in Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear -- the Lolita who doesn't even know it. That Lewis is able to infuse Amanda Sue (who, in the hands of another actress, would likely have resembled the cartoon she's written to be) with sensitivity, soulfulness, and sadness is no small feat. It's no surprise that she quickly made the leap from TV-movie-of-the-week fodder like Too Young to Die? to the big time. Now, could someone get her to put the "rock band" on hold and come back to movies?
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated