Friday, July 23, 2010

JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989) - Walter Hill

Late-'80s Hill delivers up an odd neo-noir hybrid...Straight Time meets The Elephant Man. As a study in penal system recidivism, Handsome is a little too simplistic for its own good. As a meditation on the anguish of physical deformity, it's even laughable at times ("Johnny don't need no mask! Johnny don't need no mask!"). But where the twain shall meet (namely, in a very basic revenge plot), there's some kinda interesting stuff going on here.

Mostly, it's just fun acting though. Ellen Barkin hams it up as a slutty East Texas femme with a tendency to yell "fuckin' geek" to Rourke at every opportune moment. Lance Henriksen gets the most that he can out of a dangly earring and overly-tight leather pants. Forest Whitaker is saddled with a sad ton of pseudo-psychological exposition. And Morgan Freeman gets to play sleazy for once or, at least, to play M. Emmet Walsh. After seeing him play God, Mandela and all manner of wise, kind and all-knowing elders, it's nice to see the guy getting a little dirty.

And Rourke? Well, Mickey is Mickey, brooding late-80s style, doing his best Brando On the Waterfront even under a ton of Beauty and the Beast TV makeup. I'm guessing since Rourke was heavy into the boxing at this point, the role of a palooka with a supremely messed up face was a strong hook for him. Perhaps even a glimpse into the future. If he were to play Handsome today, he probably wouldn't need so much makeup.

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