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Buffalo 66

Actor who wrote and directed film indulges himself

Published: Monday, Aug. 24 1998 5:27 p.m. MDT

Although its limitations are inescapably apparent, "Buffalo 66" is nevertheless an impressive showcase for character actor Vincent Gallo, who evidently was concerned that his flavorful lowlife roles haven't given him the chance to show enough sensitivity and soul.

Here, Gallo plays a grungy little nonentity named Billy Brown, who slides back into his native Buffalo after being released from prison. Looking like an ambulatory hangnail, filled with rage and possessed of the social skills of a fungus, he takes a bus into town, kidnaps a ballet student and proceeds to peel away layer after layer of curdled exterior to reveal hitherto unrevealed depths of sweetness and insecurity.

The story hinges on the character of the kidnap victim convincing us she's not against the chance to break out of her usual routine. Christina Ricci, looking appropriately bored and ready for a change, steals the film with her inscrutability while Gallo digs in and chews on the overwritten and oversentimentalized role he gave himself, seeming aware that he and the film would have looked better if he had made his victim do more talking while saying a lot less himself.

He takes the dancer home with him at gunpoint, although it's quite plain she's curious enough to go willingly. Gallo reveals a flair for dark humor in his depiction of Billy's parents, whose response to him runs a narrow gamut from anger to virtual denial of his existence.

As the reasons for his insecurities and troubles become over-apparent, it's wryly amusing to watch him turn invisible in the eyes of his fanatical Buffalo Bills football fan mother (played by a virtually unrecognizable Anjelica Huston), who still resents that she was pulled away from a playoff game to give birth to him. Meanwhile, his gruff father, played by Ben Gazzara, ignores Billy to grope the young woman he's told is his daughter-in-law.

Ricci makes Layla compelling, a tough, overripe kewpie doll with a complex play of feelings in her eyes that the screenplay never gets near. Gallo is talented and energetic, with an ability to estheticize bleakness. But, succumbing to overindulgence, he shortchanges his film of the most interesting thing in it.

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