As a rule of thumb, if a movie begins on a dark and stormy night, you’re in trouble. “Deuces Wild,” a tribute to the New York street-gang flicks of years past, is a cartoon-like, overly stylized melodrama that proves that some genres just don’t need to be revisited. Director Scott Kalvert has apparently not been making the most of his absence since 1996s “The Basketball Diaries,” for his attempt to create drama and tension in a completely hollow film fails miserably.
The year is 1958, the year the Dodgers left Brooklyn and the year that Elvis joined the Army. Leon (Stephen Dorff), a stoic but vicious youth, is the leader of the Deuces, a gang sworn to protect their block from outsiders and drugs. Leon and his brother Bobby (Brad Renfro) are especially concerned about “junk” in their neighborhood since their brother Allie Boy overdosed on heroin he got from Marco (Norman Reedus), the leader of the Vipers, a rival gang in Sunset Park.
The Vipers are the “bad” gangbecause drugs are their bread and butter. When one of Marco’s associates expresses interest in buying a building on the Deuces’ block, which will invariably become a part of the drug operation, Bobby and some of his Deuce companions do the only logical thing – drop a wheelbarrow full of cinderblocks on the Viper’s car, maiming him. This gets Leon in trouble with the local wiseguy Fritzy, played by Matt Dillon, since there was no authorization for the attack.
When Marco is released from prison and vows to get revenge on Leon for supposedly ratting him out, the already tense stage is set for an all-out gang war. To make matters worse, Bobby falls for Annie (Fairuza Balk), the sister of Jimmy Pockets, who is a Viper and Marco’s right-hand man.
The acting is, for the most part, atrocious, thanks to the fact that most of the gang members rely on bad impressions of James Dean (i.e. squinty eyes and protruding lips) and yelling for dramatic effect. Brad Renfro, playing the hood with the heart of gold, is especially guilty of this. Sure, most tough guys in this era probably adopted some of those mannerisms on purpose, but it is unforgivable as an acting tool. James Franco (“Spiderman”) is the only one with an excuse, since he played Dean in a TV movie and does bear a striking resemblance to the leather-jacket-and-jeans-wearing icon.
Dorff, who has shown in the past that he is capable of some emotional range, relies on his furrowed brow to convey his anger, despair, etc. Drea de Matteo (Adrianna on “The Sopranos”) plays Betsy, Leon’s girlfriend. It’s good to see her branching out.
Almost every other character is a laughable clich