Sony // 1992 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // December 19th, 2003
No Parents. No Rules.
With the exception of movies with the Troma label on the DVD case, expectations don't get much lower than what I brought into Where the Day Takes You. When this teens-on-the-street melodrama came out in 1992, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry: a cast of washed-up 1980s teenybopper idols (including Alyssa Milano and Facts of Life's Nancy McKeon) playing homeless street kids? The whole thing had a patronizing, self-congratulatory air about it, like some wealthy housewife putting in an afternoon at a soup kitchen so she can boast to her friends about her philanthropy. Was there anyone in the country in 1992 that needed a lecture on the plight of the homeless? More importantly, wasn't this movie already made the year before, when it was called My Own Private Idaho, and it didn't suck?
That said, I didn't hate Where the Day Takes You nearly as much as I expected to. Sure, pretty much every annoying thing you'd expect to see in a movie like this is present and accounted for, from the meticulous grunge makeovers of the cast (only in Hollywood can you spend your nights sleeping in the gutter and wake up looking like a member of Pearl Jam) to the heavy-handed "kids, don't try this at home!" moral lesson at the end. But it's at least watchable, and by the standards of the pre-teen mallrat audience it was clearly aimed at, it's nominally effective as an edgier version of an ABC Afterschool Special. I don't know how kids in these jaded times would take this rather tame (by 2003 standards) look at life on the street, but I'm sure it blew 'em away in '92.
The fairly conventional story deals with a group of homeless teenaged runaways, led by "King" (Dermot Mulroney) wandering the streets of Hollywood and scrounging for cash, food, and drugs, in that order. They spend their nights hanging out under a freeway overpass, drinking stolen beer, and smoking cigarettes. King's gang is a parade of '80s and '90s B-level celebs: Sean Astin, Balthazar Getty, Ricki Lake, Lara Flynn Boyle, and James LeGros (who, having starred in another, far superior screwed-up-youth flick, 1989's Drugstore Cowboy, really should have known better). A bored-looking Kyle MacLachlan tosses off a humdrum performance as the sinister drug dealer who leads Astin down the road to ruin, and future stars Will Smith and David Arquette have small but memorable appearances. (Christian Slater also turns up for an uncredited cameo.) Smith in particular is riveting for the few quick moments he's in the film, and has one tense scene that almost redeems the entire flick by itself.
Anyone who's seen any of this type of PSA-style drama knows the score. Once we find out that King is the kids' benevolent protector, you know the guy's doomed to end up a martyr. Otherwise, most of the suspense in the movie comes from trying to guess who's going to die in a horribly lesson-teaching fashion. Will it be Balthazar as the angry young punk who falls into the clutches of the icky older chicken hawk (played by a reliably pervy Stephen Tobolowsky)? Or Sean as the angry young punk who falls into the clutches of the icky bisexual drug dealer? Will the sadistic gay pimp end up knifing our heroes? By the way, do you sense a pattern here? While the young women in the cast remain unmolested, the boys are under constant threat from evil homosexuals. I doubt that director Marc Rocco intended this subtext, but it stands out in an otherwise fairly sensitively handled film.
Where the Day Takes You gets the bare-bones treatment on this DVD, with a full frame transfer and -- I'll be charitable here -- a print that reflects the grit and grime of its subject matter. In this case, I'll give the muddy, grainy image a pass, because any kind of gloss would only highlight the fundamental absurdity of this Tiger Beat take on life in the gutter. The Dolby 2.0 audio is adequate, but that's about it. And if you're looking for extras, don't bother -- all we get here is a collection of Columbia trailers. Make no bones about it, this is as standard of a catalog release as they come.
I hate to be too tough on Where the Day Takes You, because its heart is in the right place. I'm sure everyone involved felt like they were doing a good deed in addition to stretching their acting chops (with extremely variable results) in roles outside their usual types. It's nowhere near as authentic or shocking as My Own Private Idaho or 1995's Kids, but I don't think it's meant to be. While those more extreme films have no chance of drawing in the suburban mall crowd, the casting of this film clearly reflects a desire to bring in an audience that otherwise would never touch material like this. Still, I'd love to hear from any teenager who was thinking of running away from home and thought better of it after seeing this flick. If anything, the presence of these pretty celebs and the somewhat defanged storyline makes hanging out on the street seem not all that awful. And after the eye-rollingly hokey ending, I was disappointed when Officer Friendly didn't step out of the wings to warn us that "This Could Happen to You!"
If nothing else, Where the Day Takes You is good for an hour and a half of '80s nostalgia. Gasp at former Goonie (and current Samwise) Sean Astin shooting up smack! Groan as Jo from Facts of Life ends up an alcoholic junkie with Natalie and Tootie nowhere to be found! Ogle Alyssa Milano's impressive post-Who's the Boss? rack! Wonder where half of this cast is today!
Final verdict: While I'm still not sure where the day actually takes you other than the DVD bargain bin, the cast and crew of Where the Day Takes You is found not guilty of being a complete waste of time.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R