Some lines should never be crossed.
Prominent among them is the line in which you'd stand at your local video joint to rent this embarrassing dunghill of a movie.
Facts of the Case
It was the summer of '58. 58: that would be the collective IQ of the two clowns—Paul Kimatian and Christopher Gambale, in case you want to sign the petition barring them from ever working in Hollywood again—who scripted (and I'm using that term charitably) the flick in question.
The year the Dodgers left Brooklyn. In a vain effort to prevent being mentioned in association with this travesty.
The summer Dion and the Belmonts were blasting out of every car radio. Cars, no doubt, fleeing the scene of this cinematic crime, with the Philco cranked up to drown out the cliché-infested dialogue.
The summer that I first fell in love. Mostly with tedious slow-motion sequences, hallucinogenic editing, overwrought melodrama, clueless acting, excessive violence, and a certain Anglo-Saxon profanity that I'd bet my aces against your deuces had not yet descended to these depths of repetitive use in 1950s Brooklyn.
It was the summer Marco Vendetti came home from prison. Let's see…the guy who gets out of the joint after three years with a vengeful score to settle is surnamed "Vendetti." Slap me upside the head with the subtlety shovel.
And the streets of Sunset Park ran red with blood. That blood flowed from the wrists of hapless moviegoers, in their desperate attempts to relieve the unremitting torture that is Deuces Wild.
After that opening voiceover, would you really expect anything worthwhile to follow? You would not. And you'd be correct.
Deuces Wild possesses the same compelling charisma as multi-car pile-ups, scab picking, and The Ricki Lake Show. It's horrible, but you're afraid to turn away because some foul demon within you demands to see whether it will get worse. It does.
Nominally, Deuces Wild tells the derivative tale of a gaggle of Arthur Fonzarelli clones known as the Deuces (as in, What the deuce am I watching this for?). The gang is comprised of good-bad-but-not-evil young toughs defending their neighborhood against a rival crew seeking to introduce the local urchins to the life-affirming wonders of heroin addiction. Also nominally, the movie relates the bilious story of two brothers, Leon (Stephen Dorff from Blade, who must have owed someone a monumental favor) and Bobby (Brad Renfro, Bully, Ghost World), and the tramp from the other side of the turf war (Fairuza Balk, whose valiant upstream effort provides perhaps the only reason to sit through this twaddle) who comes between them. But mostly it's a lame excuse for bare-knuckle Fight Club outtakes performed by a West Side Story road company, as lensed by a director (Scott Kalvert, The Basketball Diaries) who's overdosed on John Woo movies without actually learning anything.
A number of familiar faces wander aimlessly in and out of focus here, collecting an infusion of ill-gained cash. Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in the Middle) plays an abused street kid who idolizes the gangbangers—today, he'd be one of those suburban white kids who troll the malls in hip-hop gear mouthing ghetto argot gleaned from hardcore rap CDs. Matt Dillon (not the Gunsmoke guy, the other one, the actor with all the lousy B-movies on his résumé) cameos in the sort of stud-duck role he's phoned in a zillion times before. Drea de Matteo and Vincent "Large Housecat" Pastore stroll over from The Sopranos to add a little authentic East Coast underworld flavor. Johnny Knoxville (Jackass) does a walk-on and manages not to blow himself up or eat anything creepy. The always superfluous Max Perlich (the dweeby photographer from Homicide: Life on the Street) is once again superfluous. And what in the name of "Heart of Glass" was Deborah Harry doing in that wretched bit of business as Fairuza Balk's zoned-out mother who plays Christmas records in July? Is the nostalgia tour circuit finally drying up?
When a picture reeks this badly, the director must shoulder the lion's share of the blame. I'm perfectly willing to point the Fickle Finger of Fatuousness at Scott Kalvert. No wonder this guy hadn't made a film in the five years before this—he didn't have a decent one in him. Kalvert seizes upon every trite plot point and pounds it into our crania with fists of ham. No cliché of story, character, dialogue, or cinematography has been so overtaxed that Kalvert can't find a reason to whack at it again. And after building the non-suspense throughout the movie toward a climactic confrontation between Dorff and his evil nemesis (Norman Reedus from Blade 2—maybe there was a clause in the fine print in Dorff and Reedus's Blade film contracts that the actors who played vampires had to do penance by appearing here), Kalvert sabotages his Big Showdown with so many junky edits and oblique angles (not to mention the new fog machine the special effects guy received for his birthday) that he bleeds all the life out of the scene. Little wonder that this beast fermented on the studio shelf for nearly two years before its here-today-gone-tomorrow release.
Though the film hardly merits it, MGM offers a nice anamorphic transfer of Deuces Wild on this disc. They promptly pour any potential good karma down the nearest sewer grate by including a hack-and-scan full screen version on the flip side. (I believe this is the DVD equivalent of the Canadian numismatic practice of engraving Queen Elizabeth's portrait on one face of a coin and stamping a beaver or a loon on the other.) The anamorphic rendition shows occasional print damage, but few if any digital artifacts. There might have been edge enhancement here and there, but I feared getting too close to the screen to verify this, lest the film reach out from inside the cathode ray tube and suck the remainder of my brain out of my skull. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't feature much action in the surrounds—odd, given the abundance of cheesy Foley work during the fight scenes—but does an acceptable job with the snarling guitar-drenched score by ex-Police-man Stewart Copeland. The music deserved a better flick.
Director Kalvert and editor Michael ("Happy Scissors") Miller wax nostalgic over their collaboration on an audio commentary. They're not bad, though I only needed to hear them grouse once—not a half-dozen times—about having to shoot exteriors on the Paramount lot in L.A. (instead of on location in Brooklyn) due to budgetary constraints. Most of the chat is innocuous and scene-specific, but if after watching this movie you really expected the guys who made it to provide cogent insights into the cinematic process, you're a cockeyed optimist of the first water. The only other extras are a five-minute photo montage backed by more Copeland guitars, and an anamorphic trailer that makes the movie look even more vapid and tiresome—if that's possible—than it really is.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I nominate this disc for the 2002 Stupid Easter Egg of the Year Award, and yes, I'm going to spoil it for you. (I'm already saving you the agony of sitting through a 90-minute stillborn loser of a film. Indulge me.)
If you click the "Deuces" icon on the main menu screen, a shattered automobile windshield superimposes over the static menu. That's it. No animation, not even a breaking-glass sound effect. Just a tacky overlay that looks like someone's geek nephew testing his wobbly mastery of the rudimentary basics of Photoshop. The imagination fairy skipped delivery to the MGM DVD production crew that week, apparently.
Everyone involved in the manufacture of this alleged "film" is guilty of stealing money, other filmmakers' intellectual property, and 97 precious minutes of this Judge's life that can never be reclaimed. MGM is convicted of perpetrating a fraud upon this honorable Court by forcing us to witness the robbery in excruciating detail. Twice, counting the commentary.
Prison would be too kind a sentence. Deuces Wild merits the resurrection of public hanging. I'll spring for the rope.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary Featuring Director Scott Kalvert and Editor Michael Miller
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