Little Boy Blue (1998)
Directed by Antonio Tibaldi
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, John Savage, Natassja Kinski, Tyrin Turner, Jenny Lewis, Adam Burke, Devon Michael, Shirley Knight.
1998 104 minutes
Rated: (for violence, profanity, nudity, and sex).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 6, 1998.
"Little Boy Blue," is like one of those old southern gothic mysteries from the '50's, where the characters are shrouded in uncertainty, where the plot twists come at a rapid pace, but where the story is pretty juvenile and silly, except to the people unlucky enough to be in the film. This type of film can sometimes be done well (1997's "The Locusts"), but without a director and screenwriter that have a firm grip on the material, it can turn out disasterously, and that is what plagues, "Little Boy Blue."
Just the synopsis of the film threatens to sound ridiculous, but bear with me. A teenager just out of high school, Jimmy West (Ryan Phillippe) plans to leave his bleak existence in a small Texas town to go off to college with his girlfriend of two years, Traci (Jenny Lewis). He decides to stay, however, because he is worried about his younger brothers (Adam Burke and Devon Michael) and his mother, Kate (Natassja Kinski), who works at a bar and is often bullied by his insensitive, gruff father, Ray (John Savage). This family, we can tell right from the start, is dysfunctional, to say the least. In an early scene, Ray forces Kate and Jimmy to have rough sex in the back of his car, which, we sense, is a regular occurrence at the West residence. The plot thickens when Jimmy begins to suspect that his parents have been hiding things from him after he discovers that his father lost his member in Vietnam. But if this is so, then how could he and his brother have ever been born?
"Little Boy Blue," is so muddled and frustrating in its storytelling that I felt like giving up on the film halfway through. I stuck through it, however, hoping for some sort of change. Maybe there would be some insight on the paper-thin characters, or maybe there would actually be a plot thread that had a purpose other than to surrender to the conventions of the story. No such luck.
Instead, what we have here, is a movie that would certainly have felt more at home in the 1950's, but that probably still wouldn't work, because any way you look at it, it is simply not good. The story jerks around all over the place, never stopping long enough so that we can grow to care about anyone. Aside from the mystery of the father, Ray, the film also includes a mysterious disappearance; a catfish that I think is symbolic, but don't ask me about what; murder; revenge; and an older woman (Shirley Knight) that enters into the picture late, who, before the end, is toting a rifle and blowing away everyone in sight.
"Little Boy Blue," is an independent film that had been floating around at film festivals prior to its limited theatrical release this Spring. I suspect it took a while to obtain a distributor, and no wonder. It is a goofy little thriller with no real purpose of being made, nor any obvious talent in the filmmaking department. The pacing is very, very slow, and when things picked up, I didn't believe it for a second. The actors in the film are good, for the most part, but have very little to do. Ryan Phillippe, in the title role, has proven that he can be good ("54"), but nothing happens to test his acting skills. John Savage plays the token "bad guy," and adds no depth to his character. The female performers fare a little better, but are also plagued with empty-headed characters. Natassja Kinski attempts to add some life to her incestuous mother character, and Jenny Lewis shows some promise as Phillippe's long-suffering girlfriend.
"Little Boy Blue," does not work as a thriller, as a "slice-of-life" drama, as a mystery, or as an old-fashioned 50's movie. The workings of the far-fetched plot constantly creak with amateurishness. The actors obviously fight diligently to add some spark to the proceedings, but, unfortunately, the film itself collapses down around them, and the audience is left with 104 minutes of nothing.
©1998 by Dustin Putman