If “West Side Story” was released today, took place in 1958 and replaced its musical numbers with vulgarity, it could easily be mistaken for “Deuces Wild,” the latest gang movie to come out of Hollywood.
“Deuces Wild” tells the story of Leon (Stephen Dorff) and Bobby (Brad Renfro), two brothers whose lives are torn apart after their brother overdoses on drugs he bought from the local gang, the Vipers. Determined to keep his memory alive, Leon forms his own street gang, the Deuces, while Marco (Norman Reedus), the Vipers’ leader, serves time in prison. When Marco is set free though it’s an all-out war over who will control Brooklyn’s streets… and only one gang can live to tell the story.
As if the war over the streets wasn’t West Side Story enough, the forbidden romance between Bobby and Annie (Fairuza Balk), the sister of Vipers’ member Jimmy Pockets, will definitely have viewers feeling a strong sense of deja-vu. However, the introduction of Matt Dillon’s Godfather-like character Fritzy Zennetti is a new element of the street gang film, showing how with a change in times comes a change in power.
Unfortunately some things never change though, and that includes dumb clichés like gang members walking home alone in the middle of a war (and not surprisingly getting the crap beat out of them). These moments, however infrequently they may appear, truly take away from the relatively intelligent script written by Paul Kimatian and Christopher Gambale, a script that includes an unpredictable finale.
While the movie may not be anything too new or original, Deuces Wild’s star-studded cast should definitely keep audiences entertained. Dorff delivers a power performance as the angst-ridden brother who, despite being the leader of the Deuces, is really just an over-protective soul. Viewers will never think of Leon as anything other than a man who created the gang as a way to protect his friends after failing to save his brother. This makes it easy for audiences to distinguish the good gang leader from the bad, especially since Leon typically stays away from a life of crime. Dillon’s portrayal of Fritzy Zennetti is equally commendable, combining his psychotic mannerisms from There’s Something About Mary with the seriousness he carried in Wild Things to create a Mafia lord-like character that’s positively evil. Though his screentime in the film is relatively short, Dillon uses it well and proves yet again what an underrated and talented actor he is.
However, while viewers may be able to understand Dorff and Dillon’s characters, the rest of the cast comes and goes with little introduction. This is disappointing since Deuces Wild is filled with talented young stars, including Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville and Spider-Man’s James Franco. While the idea to keep majority of the gang members nameless and faceless makes sense for the story– after all, viewers are supposed to care about each gang’s leader, not its many interchangeable men– why United Artists filled the movie with talent it never uses remains in question. Even the few supporting actors Kimatian and Gambale did choose to give a decent amount of screentime to are either resorted to sub-entertaining storylines or a severe lack of character development. For instance, Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz is resorted to simply being “the kid,” with his role requiring such “demanding” acting skills like ‘being happy while riding a bike’ or ‘being excited after seeing a girl wearing only a bra.’ Must be tough for the Emmy-nominated actor. Additionally, Brad Renfro’s character– who is actually a key player in the film– is so underdeveloped that Renfro manages to squeak by on simply recreating roles he’s played in past films, such as Bully.
Even Balk as the love interest is relatively dull. Despite her character’s hard situation at home with an abusive brother and a mentally ill mother, audiences could almost care less since it’s never quite clear whether her loyalty sides with the Deuces or the Vipers. While Balk’s wishy-washy performance could have paid off with a surprise twist at the end, when it doesn’t audiences will realize how unintentional her character’s underdevelopment actually was.
While a film like “Deuces Wild” could easily be dismissed since audiences have seen it before, director Scott Kalvert knows how to keep a well-known story semi-entertaining even during the umpteenth time it’s told. With a couple of plot twists and a few powerful performances, “Deuces Wild” is worth checking out– but only on home video.