The kids are revolting, the old joke goesand Larry Clark wouldn’t have it any other way. The teenage conspirators of Bully, Clark’s third feature, are aimless, hopeless, and seriously dumb, but they possess one attribute the director has prized since he began photographing adolescent speed freaks almost four decades ago: They look good with their clothes off.
Like its teen-murder predecessor, 1986’s River’s Edge, Bully is based on a true story, although it’s been filtered through a novel and a script whose dialogue Clark largely abandoned in favor of improv. Eight years ago, a group of kids in HollywoodFlorida, that iskilled one of their number and dumped him in a canal for the crabs and gators to eat. Bobby (Nick Stahl) is certainly a creep, but his friends, as portrayed by a cast of game young performers, seem to deserve him. Nasty Bobby has been bullying passive Marty (Brad Renfro) since they were little kids. Now Marty is an almost grown-up, if less than adult, underachiever. A high school dropout, he surfs and works in a deli. Sometimes Bobby just slugs him, but much of the dominant kid’s tyranny involves matters of sexual identity: He makes Marty perform phone sex and stripteases for the titillation of middle-aged men. Gay porn is one of the film’s motifs, although it’s unclear whether it represents Bobby’s submerged sexual orientation or just his desire to provoke and offend parents and peers.
Marty’s lifebut not Martychanges when he has casual sex with Lisa (Rachel Miner), who soon declares herself totally in loveand pregnant. When her nesting instinct kicks in, Lisa doesn’t just start cruising housewares stores; she also decides to improve Marty’s life by eliminating his tormenter. Too susceptible to simply avoid his menacing “best friend,” Marty jokes that the only way to stop Bobby from intimidating him would to be to kill him. “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Lisa replies, beginning her hasty transformation from girl next door to cold-blooded avenger.
Lisa’s wanton friend Ali (Bijou Phillips) has already been raped by Bobby, but she’s willing to serve as the sexual bait to lure the bully to an Everglades ambush. Lisa also enlists her hefty cousin Derek (Daniel Franzese), who has long served as her defender, and heavy doper Donny (Michael Pitt), who may be the most heedless of these unthinking conspirators. Also along for the ride is Heather (Kelli Garner), who’s fresh from rehab and who may beif it’s not just another posein love with Ali. The outsider is a tough-talking recruit who calls himself Hitman (Leo Fitzpatrick, who played the most reprehensible kid in Clark’s Kids); the other plotters are so credulous that they believe Hitman is actually a member of the Mob.
Where River’s Edge was entirely about the repercussions of a teen slaying, Bully concentrates on the preliminaries. Once the killing’s done, the gang’s bonds unravel quickly. In fact, they fray even as the murder is under way. In the latter third of the film, Clark’s ogling stylefeaturing frequent male and female nudity and numerous close-ups of nubile crotches and buttslurches toward comedy. The switch is probably unintentional, but the naiveté of these aspiring assassins is farcical. Didn’t they learn anything from the gangsta rap that provides the movie’s soundtrack? Bully won’t make over-21s wish they were teens again, although it may make them feel vaguely deprived: Clark’s beautiful losers seem to have sex all the time, even when plotting a murder or discussing its implications after the deed.
The movie’s press kit capitalizes the word “KIDS,” as if Clark had trademarked it. Yet the principal differences between his three films lie not in the kids but the adults: In Kids, they simply don’t exist, whereas in Another Day in Paradise, the director’s most traditional dive into depravity, they actively corrupt young protégés. Bully returns to Kids’ affectless toneand fashion-shoot lookbut this time, the parents are nearby yet clueless, just out of earshot as their offspring curse, screw, and discuss the “heavy shit” that grown-ups call murder. Clark feigns concern, but would he really care to intervene? After all, without negligent parents, he wouldn’t have the alluring delinquents that rock his world.
Originally, cinema startled by depicting everyday motions: dancing, juggling, even just walking. Then the camera itself began to move, both in accord with and in opposition to its subject. This development may have reached its illogical conclusion with Behind Enemy Lines, a movie so drunk with locomotion that it’s nearly incoherent. As shot-down U.S. Navy flyboy Lt. Chris Burnett, Owen Wilson hops around Bosnia like a pawn in a game of 4-D chess. That he ends up roughly back where he started is just the final proof that director John Moorea veteran Sega-commercial director making his feature debuthas rebuilt Top Gun as a Möbius strip.
Moore’s movie has made some viewers angry, in part because it pays uncriticalto say the leasttribute to American firepower in a mountainous country someplace between the territories of our European and Asian allies. The filmmakers weren’t thinking of Afghanistan when the movie was shot, of course, but they did change the release date to surf on the news from the American military’s latest air campaign. Though David Veloz and Zak Penn’s script boldly takes the side of Muslim massacre victims, those corpses are included in the scenario only to highlight the nobility of Burnett, who circles back to the site of his crashed plane to retrieve digital images of mass graves.
Despite its unanticipated relevance to current events, the movie’s scenario was fabricated from common elements: Burnett is the usual loose-lipped hothead, bristling under the command of a typically hardheaded but not-so-secretly sympathetic superior, Adm. Reigart (Gene Hackman). Reigart in turn has his best instincts checked by the interference of the customary muddled and meddling bureaucrat, Adm. Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida)who represents not the Pentagon or Congress but NATO. Fearing an incident that will impede peace negotiations, Piquet orders Reigart not to rescue Burnett, leaving the downed pilot to hop over land mines and dodge tank blasts as he runs from a Serbian assassin so coldblooded he might have slithered in from another genre, the serial-killer flick.
Made with massive cooperation from the U.S. military, Behind Enemy Lines has a strong aroma of the recruiting film to it. It also includes a few bits crassly borrowed from more conscientious Yugo-war films, including a plot wrinkle that’s central to the upcoming No Man’s Land. Mostly, though, the movie is about moving. The mock-combat-photography, handheld-camera style that’s been routine since Platoon isn’t speedy enough for Moore, who revs the widescreen action with fast pans, quick cuts, slo-mo, shock-cut flashbacks, and even negative footage (a hip new trick that dates to 1922’s Nosferatu). This is the kind of film in which the hero is ultimately required to jump off a cliff during a firefight to reach a rescuer dangling from a copter. (I’m not giving anything away here: The stunt is featured in the trailer and the TV ad.)
It’s been only a few weeks since a movie split the difference between undercover war and warehouse rave. Like Spy Game, Behind Enemy Lines takes chronological leaps scored to clattering techno, although composer Don Davis has substituted pseudo-Balkan choruses for Arabic chants. (Also featured, cutely, is Dion’s “The Wanderer.”) Burnett doesn’t just journey through time, however; he also voyages through space. Moore has so little patience with exposition that he just vaults his hero from place to placefrom the top of a craggy, near-unclimbable mountain to a forest several thousand feet below, for exampleas if they were levels in a video game. These jumps are laughable, but there’s at least one advantage to employing Wilson as a solo action figure in a foreign country: There’s no way the tiresomely garrulous actor can turn the proceedings into a wisecracking buddy picture. CP