Main cast: John Savage (Ray West), Nastassja Kinski (Kate West), Ryan Phillippe (Jimmy West), and Shirley Knight (Doris)
Director: Antonio Tibaldi
Ryan Phillippe is an actor for whom film critics use the term “limited range” with such regularity that the term is becoming a cliché. I think he’s young, he’s only 22 at the time of writing. He display an effervescent streak of mischief that is totally in contrast with his ice prince demeanour in Cruel Intentions, which is a delight, and he is wonderful opposite Angelina Jolie in the otherwise mundane Playing by Heart. He single-handedly saves this movie Little Boy Blue with his tortured portrayal of a young man trapped in a web of family and sexual dysfunction. If anything, young Mr Phillippe has carved a niche for himself playing the sexually ambiguous, fragile, and beautiful young man corrupted by circumstances beyond his control. In this one, the camera lingers like a voyeur on his bare skin, almost as if it is conducting an illicit affair with Phillippe’s sexuality. The effect can be simultaneously sleazy yet fascinating.
The story is a mess, however. John Savage plays Ray West, a man who has his wee-wee blown away in the Vietnam War, therefore thinking this is a legitimate excuse to force his son and wife to have sex together. Ray is a drunk abusive ass who, one day, kills a man in the bar he owns. This sparks an investigation. Along the way, Ryan dumps his girlfriend of three years whom he loves in order to stay back and protect his two brothers from his madman of a father. Somewhere towards the end a Reba McIntyre-on-a-bad-hair-day lookalike comes in and blows everyone away with her rifle. Like I said, the plot’s a grade A mess. In fact, the story is muddle, convoluted, and the characterizations are downright vague and sometimes contradictory. Why does Kate insist on staying with Ray? Beats me. Maybe she’s twisted too in her own right.
The best performances come from the West children and Jimmy’s girlfriend (whose name I can’t catch). Especially Mr Phillippe, I must say, for his portrayal of Jimmy, a young boy on the brink of manhood, simply smoulders with suppressed virility and melancholic depression just waiting to break loose. His insistence on staying to protect his younger brothers whom he loves dearly is poignant and moving. Unlike Kate whose motives for staying are vague, Jimmy’s motives for enduring his living hell are noble and movingly heroic. What I wouldn’t give to know his story in, say, 20 years time.
The two younger West siblings are also wonderful as two innocent children who have no clue what is wrong with their life but turns to their eldest brother for emotional anchor and support.
The plot is a headache, but this is definitely one of those guilty pleasures. If one should have a reason to watch it, well, I can offer a few: the voyeuristic yet visually enticing exploitation of Mr Phillippe’s beauty, the sensitive portrayals by the younger male cast, the sight of the nasty rifle-touting woman blowing the despicable Ray off (the cheering is from me), and the fact that the West family is so dysfunctional it will make any viewer appreciate his or her less-than-ideal family. Just forget the plot.