Wednesday, March 20, 2013

25 Years Ago This Month: Biloxi Blues Short Cut Movie Review

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues picks up several years after his Brighton Beach Memoirs left off. Eugene Jerome (Matthew Broderick) is now finished with high school and headed for Army basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi, ahead of deployment to the War in the Pacific. His comrades in training include a muscle head and obnoxious jerk named Wykowski (Matt Mulhern); a New York intellectual, Arnold Epstein (Corey Parker); a dim-witted loud mouth, Selridge (Markus Flanagan); and a sort of nervous young soldier lacking in confidence (Casey Siemaszko).

Eugene goes through another coming-of-age tale, this time learning about the rigors of dealing with different personalities and backgrounds in a high stress environment, losing his virginity, and falling love (with the sweet and lovely Daisy, played by the equally sweet Penelope Ann Miller). Eugene, with his never-ending wisecracks, and Epstein, with his stubborn adherence to fairness, justice, and logic and refusal to go along with the army’s code of following orders, are foils for their drill instructor, Sgt. Toomey. In Christopher Walken, director Mike Nichols found the perfect actor to portray the soft-spoken, but menacing Toomey. He doesn’t get results by braying orders and insults a la Sgt Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, but by constantly undermining the appearance that humor and laughter will save these boys. His methods seem unorthodox from an outsider’s perspective, but barring a final act of madness he seems entirely reasonable as a man charged with training boys for war. I believe this was my first exposure to Walken and in a way it’s the quintessential Walken role and undertaken long before he became an object of parody and imitation.

Biloxi Blues works better as a movie than its predecessor thanks to Nichols’ direction. His vast experience in both film and stage means he’s able to make Simon’s screenplay more open while also working well with the actors to breathe fresh life into the dialogue. It never really feels like it was written with a live audience in mind.

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