If you’re an Anglo living in a happenin’ hippie metroplex like Austin or Seattle or Berkeley, wear grungy clothes, and refuse to grow up and get a real job, that makes you a slacker. Do the same thing anywhere else, and that pretty much makes you white trash. Such is the case for Mikey Bronco (Tony Denmen) and his best friend Lenny Lake (Jacob Tierney) who suffer the great misfortune of fitting each of these qualifications, yet live in the decidedly unhip hilly environs of southern Illinois.
From Lenny’s ill-conceived scheme to shoplift beer from a local mom and pop convenience store, events spiral inexorably downhill for the boys. Needing money to pay their sleazy attorney, Lenny’s Grandpa Ron (William Devane in a bombastic performance far too few people will ever see), they embark on a series of petty robberies which eventually include Mikey’s unemployed mom Linda (Sean Young) and her new boy toy Brian (Jason London), the sheriff’s son and Mikey and Lenny’s former tormentor in junior high school. Complicating the situation is Grandpa Ron’s sexy and scheming new wife, who happens to be one of Brian’s former flames. Despite the eagerness of the patient but shrewd Judge William Pike (M. Emmett Walsh) to give the boys a break, every move they make puts the smart as a herd of Herefords group of thieves deeper and deeper into a hole until they at last find themselves fleeing the bumbling but determined law and a host of pissed off victims.
“Poor White Trash” is one of those guilty pleasures that has no business being as stupidly entertaining as it is. Somehow director Michæl Addis seemed to make his “name” cast — Devane, Young, and Mr. Walsh — give a damn about a silly film which will most likely be gracing the likes of the USA Network some night. Their willingness to grind the wheat here (or in Devane’s case, apparently relishing his made-to-ham-it-up role) makes it far more enjoyable to watch relative unknown Tierney as the earnest but inept aspiring street punk.
In its own ham-handed way, “Poor White Trash” celebrates the bonds of family and friendship, although it’s a good bet that this wasn’t an intentional underlying theme. Instead, what it does best is simply have a raucous and goofy good time poking fun at and wallowing with the struggling denizens of the trailer park; folks who are still capable of dreaming despite their lack of resources. Still, by pursuing those dreams in their own slapdash and utterly inept ways, this film’s white trash heroes perversely emerge as being far more dignified than their more celebrated, less ostracized slacker cousins.