“Billy Jones” is a well-made but heavy-handed morality tale on the dangers of smoking. Taking place in a suburban 1950s setting, it focuses on a 12-year-old who is obsessed with TV commercials for Dirtydawg Cigarettes, which features the ring-a-ding-ding canine swinger Dirty Dawg and his entourage of shapely showgirls as they enjoy the high life with cigarettes dangling from their lips.
Billy’s world takes a turn for the manic when he inspires a promotional contest: collect the highest quantity of plastic bones in each pack of cigarettes and win oodles of fine prizes, with the grand prize being an appearance on a commercial with Dirty Dawg. Billy and his pals purchase cigarette packs by the thousands and, not wanting to let the contents go to waste, smoke themselves sick. Billy’s pals know when to call it quits but Billy is hooked past addiction, with a gruesome physical consequence ultimately awaiting him.
As a cautionary tale against smoking, “Billy Jones” is subtle as an anvil and the ending is clearly telegraphed too far in advance to have any real impact. To its credit, however, the film is a wonderfully produced effort that happily recalls the style and inanity of the 1950s culture and the misplaced perception that a cigarette and a cocktail glass could turn any man into Frank Sinatra. Young Adam Robinson is a natural on-camera as Billy, especially when he is dressing up in a snazzy suit and tie and jauntily strutting through his school and his treehouse as a budding man-about-town. One wishes the film could focus more on a youngster with genuine Rat Pack desires rather than a heavy lesson on why kids should never, ever light up a Marlboro.
Filmmaker Christopher J. Bell comes to this film from a most unlikely endeavor: he is a producer and writer for the Ultimate Pro Wrestling league and he also stars in those productions as a character called The Boar. It might be fun if he could translate his experiences from the wrestling ring into a film, which would probably offer more entertaining food for thought than the well-intentioned but less-than-satisfactory “Billy Jones”.