Every few years, a film comes along that acts as both a cautionary tale and a brazen expose on contemporary youths. In the vein of KIDS, Thirteen and Bully, comes writer/director Nick Cassavetes’ dramatic retelling of three days in California’s San Fernando Valley and a group of wannabe hoodlums in way over their heads.
Shorty Johnny Truelove (Hirsch) exerts his control over a gang of thugs who share more smack-talking than action, at least until old friend Jake (Foster) comes up short on some money he owes JT. Jake’s defiance and disrespect are the catalysts to the little clique’s demise.
The gang scoops Jake’s little brother, Zack, in what starts as a prank of retaliation, but quickly it turns into a very serious kidnapping.
Not that the boys ever treat is seriously. To them it is a chore, a task to fulfill. Even the “stolen boy” treats it like a vacation from an overbearing mother, and why shouldn’t he?
The gang treats him to a holiday of booze, drugs and girls.
The gritty filmmaking begs to be taken seriously and at times it is treated like a documentary by editors Shawn Broes and Alan Heim. Instead it comes off as an adolescent gangster fantasy, an urban lifestyle to emulate, as they try to enact the glorified images of the idols that hang on the walls of their mansions, like Scarface’s Tony Montana.
It’s just hard to believe these guys as gun-toting, power-hungry street soldiers with their pearly white teeth, preppy clothing and perfectly sculpted facial hair. They’re just little boys playing gangsters.
Only Timberlake is convincing as the laid back, Cali stoner boy Frankie, duped by his friends into a deeper quagmire than he, or we viewers, realize. He provides comic relief and a center within the film, the balance between two extremes (the volatile Jake and the quietly manipulative Truelove). Hirsch’s performance shows promise, but Foster’s Jake is wily, out of control and completely over the top.
The strong supporting cast of adult actors reminds us we are dealing with amateurs. Bruce Willis is dry and cunning as Johnny’s father, Sharon Stone is powerful as the kidnapped boy’s mother and Harry Dean Stanton is at his misogynistic best, playing the dirty old man, Cosmo.
The film is more disturbing than it is entertaining, but like a train wreck, you can’t tear your eyes from it without wincing. It’s a story of too much testosterone and not enough parental supervision.
I shudder to think how young guys tend to glorify what they see onscreen and the effect this film might have on the younger generation, what it will add to the epidemic of foul-mouthed, disaffected spoiled brats, styled straight out of Compton, as if they have any clue what any of it really means or what they even stand for, believe in or want to achieve. They just want to be tough and cool, but instead they come off looking like poseurs.