Johns, Johns, Johns everywhere.
An interesting, gritty, and pseudo- romantic tale of low rent male prostitutes on the streets of Los Angeles, Johns reaches deep into religious symbolism. Only a telegraphed, disappointing ending and Fox Lorber's transfer keep this from being a very good DVD.
Johns delves deeply into a topic few people want to think about: young men, often minors, working as male prostitutes and living on the street. These young men (and women, but this movie deals with men) live with their dreams and hopes to hustle enough so that they don't have to do it anymore. David Arquette (Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3) stars as John, one such man who is one day away from his 21st birthday on Christmas Day. His dream is one of desperation and hope; he wants to spend one night in an expensive hotel, and is willing to steal $300 from a drug dealer to make it happen. He claims to be straight; only hustling for the money and having a volatile relationship with a street girl to prove it. Lukas Haas (Mars Attacks!, Alan and Naomi) plays Donner, a teen in love with the straight John and forced on the streets after his family disowned him for being gay. His dream is to leave the streets with John and travel to Branson, Missouri where a relative has promised them a job. The whole film takes place within this 24-hour period, as they scramble to get enough money to fulfill these dreams and hopefully not get killed by the drug dealer in the process.
While there is some artistic license taken (no real mention of drug use for example), the people on the streets have an utterly realistic feel. In fact, real street people were part of the picture, and Arquette and Haas spent a month on those very streets getting ready for the film. Homophobes need not apply since there are several scenes which will make them squeamish, to say the least. Elliot Gould (M, American History X) plays in one of these scenes as a married closet gay man infatuated with Arquette. The feeling throughout is that you are a real spectator to life on the Boulevard (Santa Monica that is). First time director Scott Silver used real stories of the street in writing the script to add to that feeling.
There are a couple bright moments in the film. Memorable is Richard Kind (TV's Spin City), whose few minutes as an understanding concierge rise above the material he's given. His scenes with Arquette have a sentimental quality that threatens to turn things into Pretty Woman, but they're not played that way.
One huge plus to the film, and the disc, is the terrific score by blues great Charles Brown. Great blues all by itself, but it also works to promote the mood of the film. If anyone deserves the blues, it's these kids. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, pretty center driven the rest of the time, explodes into spacious bluesy beauty when the score kicks in. Dialogue remains clear throughout even over the score and other effects. Otherwise the sound is fairly unimpressive, with little use of surrounds or subwoofer.
The extras are nothing to complain about either, especially for a Fox Lorber (Fox Lite) release. The best is the feature length commentary by Lukas Haas and David Arquette. They are very jovial at times during the commentary, which is a bit disconcerting considering the film they're talking about, but it's still informative and interesting. Filmographies and awards (no bios), a weblink, and the trailer complete the extra content.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I mentioned the religious symbolism, which occurs throughout the film. Much of it is quite obvious, some other parts a bit less so. Obvious references are John being born on Christmas Day and receiving marks reminiscent of the Crown of Thorns, and less so would be the homeless man (also named John, played by Keith David, Armageddon, Platoon) who asks Arquette for half a sandwich early in the film and gives him a whole sandwich later. Other such references permeate the film. Christ references in a movie, especially about such a topic, only serve to telegraph the ending. It was also alluded to in the very beginning, when John has his lucky sneakers stolen. The sneakers that were going to take him places, that he believed prevented anything bad from happening to him, are gone and bad things start to happen. Other symbolism occurs as well, such as almost all the johns being named John, along with the star and two other characters. Sometimes I felt this was just being coy rather than adding anything. At any rate, the worst part of the film is that you know how it is going to end from early in the movie, and by halfway through you've become certain.
Next up, and a definite minus, is the quality of the transfer. Video like this is what gave me the term "Fox Lite" for Fox Lorber, but I should say that even mainstream Fox doesn't have a very good record for transfers. Pixelation, jagged edges, edge enhancement problems, shimmer, varying flesh tones, you name it. Non-anamorphic of course, as we've come to expect from Fox regardless of what they say. Well, most colors are faithfully depicted without bleeding or oversaturation, I'll give it that. Black levels are fine. It's still watchable overall, but I was able to nitpick it to death throughout the film. Even Fox should know better.
I didn't expect to like this film, in fact I expected to hate it. It was definitely much better than my expectations. I liked the gritty feel of the street, the romanticism of the street folk, and the characters. I was hugely disappointed in the ending and how long I saw it coming. The fact that I was disappointed says something though; it means I was emotionally invested in the story. The commentary and the score was great, the soundtrack fine, it's just the video transfer that stinks. So I have to recommend the disc as a rental rather than purchase. If you like the film, and don't mind the transfer then it's worth a purchase later.
The actors are acquitted without argument. The writer/director is cautioned to think more about leaving the ending in suspense and less about symbolism in the future. Fox Lorber is sentenced to change authoring facilities to the people who do New Line's work. I'm frankly getting sick of lousy transfers from Fox.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Fox Lorber
• Actor's Commentary
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