Deuces Wild
"Refried 'West Side Story' w/ extra grit w/o musical sequences"
Dir. Scott Kalvert; writ. Paul Kimatian and Christopher Gambale; feat. Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, Fairuza Balk, Norman Reedus, Frankie Muniz, Balthazar Getty, Max Perlich, Debbie Harry (R)

Deuces Wild, a late-1950s period piece directed by Scott Kalvert (The Basketball Diaries), was reportedly shot in 2000, but is only now seeing release. In the meantime, several of the movie's young stars, including Frankie Muniz of My Dog Skip and TV's Malcolm in the Middle, have grown both physically and in commercial viability. Was the wait worth it?

Yes, for that segment of the audience that is sure to go ga-ga over endless rumbles. Something of a refried West Side Story with far more grit but none of that film's joyful exuberance (and, uh, no musical sequences), Deuces Wild relies on pointlessly extended orgies of hand-to-hand combat in which leather-jacketed toughies play dirty with baseball bats, chains, switchblades, and their fists.

Viewers keen on loosely structured melodrama centered on dysfunctional families (missing dads, addled moms, teens with zero at-home guidance) may appreciate the film, too.

For the rest of us, Kalvert's underachievement amounts to a rather tired exercise in nostalgia, with plenty of clichéd dialogue and lots of opportunities for star spotting: Matt Dillon, himself a former denizen of lost-boys flicks (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish); Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy on HBO's The Sopranos) and Drea DeMatteo (the latter program's Adriana). And isn't that Deborah Harry, the Blondie singer and occasional actress, nearly unrecognizable as an older woman who is addicted to Christmas music and convinced that Santa Claus lives upstairs from her? Yes.

Moody lighting is as much a character as anyone else in Deuces Wild, and Oscar-nominated cinematographer John A. Alonzo pours it on from the get-go, in an overblown, sentimental opening scene that establishes the movie's central conflicts. Leon (Dorff), the leader of the Deuces gang, is seen wailing for his mother and dragging home the body of his brother, Allie Boy (Blake Bashoff), who has died of an overdose. (Later, we see flashbacks of the kid, pale and unconscious, at a playground.) Marco (Norman Reedus), leader of rival bad boys the Vipers, had something to do with the overdose, and local crime kingpin Fritzy (Dillon) may have been involved, too. Leon, concerned about the welfare of his younger brother, Bobby (Brad Renfro), vows to keep the mean streets clean of "junk."

Flash forward several years, and Marco is preparing to leave prison and carry out a vendetta against those he believes were responsible for sending him to jail. Bobby, all grown up and tired of living in his big brother's shadow, is beginning a romance with Annie (Balk), sister of Jimmy (Getty), who has been leading the Vipers while Marco was in prison. Leon, meanwhile, is in semi-retirement from the thug life, protective of his now-alcoholic mom and happily in love with his blonde-bombshell girlfriend, Betsy (Drea de Matteo).

Father Aldo (Vincent Pastore), the kindly neighborhood priest, advises against more fighting, but his pleas fall on deaf ears: There are wrongs to be righted and an endless cycle of revenge to be pursued. Bored by all the fighting, I couldn't help thinking it was too bad these kids didn't put down their fists, get jobs, save up, buy their own homes, and get ready to cash in when gentrification came to their part of New York City. But that's another movie.
— Philip Booth

"Intellectual espionage"
Dir. Michael Apted; writ. Tom Stoppard, Robert Harris (novel); feat. Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows (R)

Approaching the realm of World War II code-breakers from (one assumes) a more intellectual angle than John Woo's upcoming Windtalkers, Enigma is set in a British intelligence center so protected that its existence wasn't acknowledged until decades after the War; top cryptologist Tom Jericho (Scott) has been called back into this secure environment despite having gone a little bonkers over a failed affair with another employee, an icy blonde named Claire.

Naturally, Tom is as interested in making contact with Claire as in attacking the life-or-death assignment he's been given — but she's vanished, leaving nothing but a few scraps of paper she shouldn't have had. With her roommate, Hester (played charmingly by Winslet), Tom deduces that her disappearance and his new assignment are somehow linked.

Though there are bits of plot that screenwriter Tom Stoppard doesn't explain sufficiently (and others that he explains with words when the film needs action), director Michael Apted and his cast give the film a pleasantly engaging charm. It's fun to watch the bookish Tom and Hester play spy, even if you're not quite sure why the subterfuge is necessary; it's not as if they're searching for secrets in a Nazi compound, after all. (Though they're right to avoid some authority figures — like Jeremy Northam's Wigram, a smooth, almost creepy investigator who seems eager to accuse them of something nefarious — Northam's slick charisma goes a long way here.)

In a nice, repeated touch that attempts to counteract the script's wordiness, the filmmakers often cut away from an expository scene to show the action that's being described or guessed at. When these moments involve the enemy's mysterious maneuvers, which our heroes aim to make clear, the technique conveys the tense dichotomy of being at once totally removed from, but an integral part of, action on the other side of the continent.

The movie benefits from the remembered excitement of dozens of better WWII espionage films, and tries to put a new spin on things by giving Tom's obsession with Claire equal weight to the War. That angle doesn't work quite as well as it might have — Scott doesn't really seem to care as much as he should — but it's just enough spice to keep this old dish flavorful.
John DeFore

Son of the Bride (El Hijo de la novia)
"Imported domestic melodrama lacks bite"
Dir. Juan José Campanella; writ. Campanella and Fernando Castets; feat. Ricardo Darín, Héctor Alterio, Norma Aleandro, Natalia Verbeke, Eduardo Blanco, Gimena Nóbile, Claudia Fontán (R)

At 42, Rafael Belvedere (Darin) reminds an acquaintance of "a juggler trying to keep the plates spinning." The daily pressures of keeping plates heaped in the restaurant that he owns and operates are threatening both his physical and fiscal survival. His girlfriend, Naty (Verbeke), feels neglected, his ex-wife, Sandra (Fontan), resentful, and Ricardo is anxious about his responsibilities as an absentee father to Vicky (Nobile). It has been a year since he visited his mother, Norma (Aleandro), in the nursing home that she, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, has been confined to. Now, after 44 years, Ricardo's father, Nino (Alterio), announces his intention to renew his vows to Norma in a grand, expensive church wedding.

Son of the Bride arrives from Argentina at a time of grave crisis there. But, as Raphael tells the corporate sharks trying to convince him that now, more than ever, he ought to sell them his restaurant: "There's always a crisis." Crises are not always resolved as amiably as they are in this sweet, unremarkable film. Despite its culinary setting, it reserves its sharpest bite for Catholic clergy, who try to bilk an old man with costly rituals but refuse to sanction a second wedding for a senile old woman. "I don't watch Argentine movies," Raphael tells an actor friend. Though Buenos Aires was once the center of a major film industry, this export does not provide compelling reasons to watch Argentine movies. Steven Kellman



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