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Requiem for a Twerp

[whitespace] Vincent Gallo whines his way through 'Buffalo 66'

By Richard von Busack

SAYS JANET BROWN (Anjelica Huston), serving dinner to her deeply put-upon son, Billy (Vincent Gallo), in Buffalo 66: "Do you like tripe?" Not really, and Buffalo 66 is tripe if ever I've sampled it. Director Gallo co-wrote this dreadful independent feature with Alison Bagnall; he also stars in it and sings the soundtrack. The would-be auteur plays an ex-con who tries to mend things with his mean, oblivious parents, before heading out into the night to settle old scores. The setting is winter in Buffalo, and thanks to Lance Acord's photography, the heavy ambiance of Great Lakes misery is the most authentic aspect of this vanity project.

Billy kidnaps (violently, but with apparently no hard feelings on her part) a tap-dance student named Layla (Christina Ricci) to pose as his fiancée to impress his parents. The divine Ricci, who looks like a mall version of the Mona Lisa, spends the film dressed in a low-cut outfit that must have been very uncomfortable in the 20-degree weather. Seeing Ricci's youth and beauty stolen even for the amount of time it took to make this pooch is bad enough; seeing Huston's and Ben Gazzara's age and experience squandered is worse.

Buffalo 66 is a long whine. At the lowest point, Gallo fancies himself a suffering Jesus in an excruciating long dinner-table scene, pestered by his father (Gazzara) while his mother serves food that she should have remembered her son is allergic to. (Inset: a close-up of a child's hived-covered face.) Also, the father did something horrible long ago to Bingo, Billy's dog--we see that flashback as well. Is this enough bathos? Apparently not; it turns out that Billy spent five years in the joint as a sort of metaphysical appeal to his parents. Billy once made a huge bet on his mother's favorite football team, the Buffalo Bills, that he couldn't cover. To pay his debt to his bookie, Billy was ordered to confess to a crime, lest his parents get their legs broken.

Gallo, hollow-eyed, stubbled and greasy, recalls Mickey Rourke at his PCB oiliest, and damned if Rourke himself doesn't turn up as the bookie in question. Here are two actors made for each other, and during the long pauses and sub-Cassavetes monologues, I started to daydream about theater-clearing projects for the pair. How about a version of The Zoo Story set in a toxic-waste dump with a soundtrack by Diamanda Galas? Gallo has the look and mannerisms of an actor usually 17th-billed as Third Knife-wielding Thug, yet he somehow manages to beguile Ricci's character into adoration. What aims to be a neo-noir on the lines of Shoot the Piano Player turns out to be dopily romantic. Even the gun that we know will be used in the third act is a tiny thing, like the gag revolvers jokesters use to light cigarettes.

Buffalo 66 (Unrated; 110 min.), directed by Vincent Gallo, written by Gallo and Alison Bagnall, photographed by Lance Acord and starring Gallo, Christina Ricci, Angelica Huston and Ben Gazzara.

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From the July 9-15, 1998 issue of Metro.

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