Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Pariah

By Marc Savlov

JULY 19, 1999: 

D: Randolph Kret; with Damon Jones, Dave Oren Ward, Aimee Chaffin, David Lee Wilson, Dan Weene, Angela Jones. (Not Rated, 98 min.)

"Great. Astonishing. The best film in Park City," raves filmmaker Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Wayne's World) in the press for Kret's debut feature. If this represents the cream of Slamdance '98, I'm glad I wasn't there. Chockablock with overemotional histrionics and teenage hissy fits, this skinheads-on-the-loose caper seeks to probe the twin societal ills of multicultural racism and teen angst and, instead, comes off as a muddled, but clearly well-intentioned slice of not-quite-Corman. As the film opens, the middle-class, white protagonist Steve (Jones) takes his black girlfriend out for dinner and a movie. They never make it, however, as they're waylaid by a vicious, snarling group of Los Angeles skins, who proceed to beat the bejesus out of the hopelessly outmatched Steve while taking turns raping his girlfriend. Cut to a year later: In the wake of the assault and his girlfriend's suicide, Steve emerges out of the dark into the darker with his head shaved and sporting a flight jacket with Aryan symbols. His mission? Infiltrate the skinhead gang that ruined his life and ruin theirs. From here on in it's a battle of half-wits as Steve insinuates himself into the lives of the gang and broods about turning the tables on them. There's Crew (Ward), the jingoistic leader of the pack, spouting Mein Kampfisms like backwash bile; David Lee (Wilson), a heavily closeted gay skin who spends his days parroting Crew's rhetoric when he's not out playing chickenhawk; Doughboy (Slater), the mentally handicapped skin who ought to have a target painted on his chest; and Sissy (Chaffin), Doughboy's older sister and Crew's main squeeze. Into this den of wolves strides an overconfident Steve, who is at first rebuked by the gang, and then, after they put him through a grisly rite of passage, finally accepted, albeit halfheartedly. Kret telegraphs the final, tragic outcome of his film well in advance -- it's not just Doughboy who ought to have that target. Jones' characterization is muddled, due in part, I think, to a lack of clarity in Kret's script. Is he supposed to be some avenging angel, or a confused individual wandering through yet another dark night of the soul. We're never told, which makes these characters' motives even murkier. The one spot in which Kret excels is in his portrayal of the female skins, who at the very least have been given some sort of backstory to explain their hatful of hate. Sissy, we find out, was routinely raped by her father, while other girls fell under similar repugnant fates. For all its chutzpah and idealism, Pariah remains a muddled mess, a far cry from Australian director Geoffrey Wright's seminal Romper Stomper, which this film clearly strives to emulate (indeed, in one scene a snippet of dialogue from Wright's film is clearly heard in the background). It's a well-meaning mess but a mess nonetheless.

2 stars


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