Sunday, February 1, 2009

One from Mickey's 'missing' period: This BULLET doesn't need dodging

I just read a so-so Mickey Rourke career profile -- and career prediction -- over on Yahoo ("Rourke is Back, But for How Long?"), and the article basically tri-sected Rourke's career into his first wave of stardom ('80s), his period outside Hollywood favor ('90s), and his comeback (now).

The piece described his middle period as a time during which he "was scraping by acting in dreck like Dennis Rodman vehicle DOUBLE TEAM" -- implying that Rourke was slumming big-time. That's okay as an oversimplification, maybe, but it does little justice to his surprisingly excellent mid-90s tough-and-gritty crime film, BULLET.

Maybe BULLET is easily overlooked because inadequate thesp Tupac features so prominently in the campaign for the film, when in fact Rourke is the lead -- and future Oscar winner Adrien Brody has the next largest role (to say nothing of Ted "Buffalo Bill" Levine as another one of his memorable big-screen weirdos). I'm sure most people who spy the DVD cover artwork never bother with the movie itself; I'm guessing Yahoo's Rourke essayist sure didn't (and come to think of it, I'm not sure why I first watched it either -- unless it was because I had learned that the best '90s crime films are sometimes the biggest box-office failures; Barbet Schroeder's KISS OF DEATH remake is an excellent slice of underworld and would probably have been re-discovered by now, if not for David Caruso's current state of self-parody on CSI MIAMI).

So what makes BULLET such a great low-budget crimer?

Besides having great production values and performances (especially for what basically ended up being a direct-to-video product), and some shocking violence (switchblade through the eye socket, anyone?), the film has a nice urban (and druggy) grittiness, thanks to director Julien Temple, who's primarily known for music videos.

Some, ahem, eye-opening violence.

More intererstingly, the film has some unique variations on the typical street-level crime-movie characters: Rourke's badass Bullet character happens to be sexually impotent, his right-hand man is a repressed homosexual of the CheesyMacho variety and one of his brothers has been rendered both a expert killer and a dirty-underweared social misfit by his traumatic time in the service.

But these realistically quirky characters never strain to be "movie quirky" -- unlike the giant wave of poor PULP FICTION imitators (2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY, THINGS TO DO IN DENVER...) being made during the mid-90s. (This crappy subgenre, which also contains THURSDAY and the criminally overrated gimmick movie THE USUAL SUSPECTS, sadly accounts for the bulk of American crime cinema in the '90s.)

Also interesting about BULLET is its glimpse into the lives of Jewish hoodlums; cinema has fixated so unswervingly on Italian-American crime that when a BULLET or a PLOT AGAINST HARRY comes along, it gives these films some real identity (Roruke co-wrote the screenplay -- pseudonymously as "Sir Eddie Cook" -- with a Bruce Rubenstein).

Any guess as to Bullet's cultural background?

In addition to his acting and writing contributions to the film, Rourke also handled music supervision, and the multiple uses of the Barry White song "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up" also lends the film some individual personality. I'm not sure why more movies with a popular-music soundtrack don't do this: use a song repeatedly until it becomes the movie's unofficial theme. Excellent stuff.

Question: Former lightweight fighter Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini has a small role in BULLET as a cop (Mancini has had a slight-but-steady acting career since his days in the ring). Did he and Rourke know each other from the boxing world? Dunno. Anyone?