Ealasaid/ May 10, 2002/ Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

Directed by: Scott Kalvert
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, Fairuza Balk, Norman Reedus
Rated: R for strong violence, language, some drug content, and brief sexuality
Notes for Parents: “Deuces Wild” is aimed at the older teen and adult audience. The graphic violence and themes make it inappropriate for early teens and younger.

Those who enjoyed books like “The Outsiders” will probably find most of “Deuces Wild” immensely satisfying. This tale of rival gangs in late 50s New York is classic in its storyline and characters. Unfortunately, it falls short of “Outsiders”-like brilliance, with underdeveloped characters, dangling plot lines, and hyper-realistic violence that results in only superficial injuries.
The story is fairly simple. Leon (Stephen Dorff) is the leader of the Deuces, the good gang. They protect their block and have sworn to keep drugs out of the area. Marco (Norman Reedus), leader of the Vipers (the bad gang), has just gotten out of prison on a drug rap and has plans to move heroin into the area. Leon and Marco have a history, of course, and their feud is complicated by a Romeo-and-Juliet romance between Leon’s brother Bobby (Brad Renfro) and Annie (Fairuza Balk), the sister of one of Marco’s men.
The film’s great strength is in the feel of the thing; the greased hair and fifties music. It gives it a sort of never-never-land flavor, like a fairytale. When the two gangs decide to rumble, thunder rolls in the background and lightening flashes behind the young men walking to the park.
The characters are also simple, but often to the point of being pathetically undeveloped. Leon isn’t good, he’s very nearly perfect. Marco is so evil that it’s difficult even for those who usually like villains to find a redeeming quality in him. Bobby is hotheaded and loyal, Annie cold on the outside but loving on the inside, and so on. There are a few touches of real depth here and there, but they are all too few and far between.
The biggest flaw in the film is in its violence. Although it appears that Kalvert was trying to make a morality tale about the evils of drugs and gang warfare, the overly realistic violence is realistic only in its sound effects and slow-mo replays. After fights, the participants who are still on their feet walk away with only bruises, even if they were on their knees getting kicked and hit with bats a minute or two before. This undermines the attempt to show violence as something bad that has negative consequences.
“Deuces Wild” is not a feel-good film, and will chiefly appeal to those who like violent movies. Those who are just looking to kill a couple of hours at a fun summer film should probably go see “Spider-Man.”