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Try as I might, I can’t bring myself to hate “Deuces Wild,” a period movie set in 1950s Brooklyn New York. The film centers around two street gangs, the Vipers and the Deuces, as they square off over city streets, blocks, girls, drugs, and who has the higher testosterone. It’s a combination “West Side Story” and “The Outsiders,” with more elements of “The Outsiders” in theme and cast makeup. In fact “The Outsiders” alum Matt Dillon also stars in “Deuces Wild” just to make sure people get the connection.
Stephen Dorff is Leon, the founder and leader of the Deuces. Leon is a tough guy and he can change the tide of a rumble with his fists. Years ago, Leon’s older brother Al was murdered by rival gangleader Marco (Norman Reedus), who spiked junkie Al’s drugs. Now released from prison after 3 years, Marco is determined to make Leon’s life a living hell. Worst, he plans to flood the Deuces’ neighborhood with drugs, all with the blessings of neighborhood crime boss Fritzy (Matt Dillon). Along the way, Leon’s hot-tempered little brother Bobby falls for a Viper’s sister ala “West Side Story.” Oh yeah, and then there’s a rumble in the end that solves everything.
To enjoy this film you have to like its era, like its story of conflicting gangs living literally across the street from each other, and know that sooner or later there will be a final rumble to settle all scores. If you are unable to enjoy those simple aspects of “Deuces Wild,” then the rest of the film is an exercise in futility, because, quite frankly, there’s not much else to latch onto. It’s a simple story, with no real layers, and what you see is what you get. In fact, the whole notion of street gangs is rather ridiculous, and Matt Dillon’s character even says so in the film.
The film works best when it’s pitting Dorff against Reedus. Dorff’s driven and focused Leon is the perfect opposite to Norman Reedus’ stylish and slightly “off” Marco. We all know how it’s going to end — with the two men facing off to the death in a rumble to end all rumbles (and as we all know, all rumbles must take place at night and in a private and empty location, preferably a park or lot). Dorff is effective as the protective brother to the hotheaded Bobby (Brad Renfro), while Norman Reedus seems to be channeling Willem Dafoe’s biker character from Walter Hill’s “Streets of Fire.”
The screenplay by Paul Kimatian and Christopher Gambale is not all that interesting as it lumbers toward the final rumble. The romance between Bobby and Annie (Fairuza Balk), the sister of Balthazar Getty’s hapless Viper gangmember, is contrived and unconvincing. Renfro plays his part well, showing vulnerability underneath all that tough exterior, but Balk is just not up to the task. Balthazar Getty, on the other hand, is quite good as a man who is more junkie than gangmember. He is so unthreatening as a Viper that it’s amusing.
Director Scott Kalvert really doesn’t show anything here. The movie actually looks more like an average TV episode, only longer, with the all-too obvious Hollywood sets and all-too polished 1950s cars. Everything looks like they’re still fresh from the prop store, and anyone who doesn’t adore this era and this sort of gang movie will surely see many faults with it (and be justified in doing so).
Just as “The Outsiders” made stars out of many of its young (and then-unknown) actors, “Deuces Wild” looks like it’s trying to go for the same stepping-stone effect. The film has a laundry list of young rising stars, including Frankie Muniz from TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle” as a wannabe-Deuce and Brad Renfro (Bobby), who despite having been around a while, is still relatively unknown.
But in the end, “Deuces Wild” is only worth watching for those who adore the genre and era. All others need not bother
Scott Kalvert (director) / Paul Kimatian, Christopher Gambale (screenplay)
CAST: Stephen Dorff …. Leon
Brad Renfro …. Bobby
Fairuza Balk …. Annie
Norman Reedus …. Marco
Frankie Muniz …. Scooch
Balthazar Getty …. Jimmy Pockets
Matt Dillon …. Fritzy