September 14, 2018

White Boy Rick

Grade: C + Director: Yann Demange
Starring: Richie Merritt, Matthew McConaughey, Bel Powley, Jonathan Majors, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, Rory Cochrane, Bruce Dern, and Piper Laurie
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

White Boy Rick isn’t just the title of a film about a real-life drug dealer. The problem is that it’s also the sum total of the character depth plumbed from Richard Wershe Jr., a white teenager growing up on the mean streets of 1980s Detroit who becomes embroiled in the criminal underworld and an oppressive, duplicitous justice system. It’s a common tragedy for minorities, and Wershe’s singularity— that he eventually becomes the longest-serving nonviolent juvenile offender in Michigan history—is a fact learned only during the film’s postscript. Everything preceding that is a string of promising plot points that aren’t fully or effectively connected.

Rick (Richie Merritt) lives with his strung-out sister (Bel Powley) and schivy father (Matthew McConaughey, the film’s unquestioned bright spot). When Rick becomes an apprentice to his dad’s gun-running enterprise, it puts Rick in the same oribt as a dangerous drug lord, Johnny (Jonathan Majors). Rick ingratiates himself with Johnny’s crew for reasons that aren’t fully fleshed out, and in turn Johnny integrates Rick into their operations, which also involves the cover of Detroit political elites. That puts Rick on the radar of FBI agents (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane) looking for a big score, who ignore the illicit activities of Rick and his dad in exchange for information on Johnny and bigger fish.

It’s a commonplace movie story made more mundane by Yann Demange’s by-the-numbers direction and Merritt’s bland portrayal, a performance that doesn’t elicit excitement, anger, or sympathy. The concern and care Rick expresses for his addict sister is touching, but otherwise he sleepwalks through the highs and lows of his checkered existence. It falls to McConaughey to repeatedly infuse pathos into this Scarface simulacrum, a burden so daunting you can practically see the flop sweat. When a film’s emotional heartbeat is its epilogue, perhaps it’s worth fast-forwarding through the rest.


Pam said...

I still have to check it out.

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