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Tucson Weekly '70s Mush

Vincent Gallo's 'Buffalo 66' Manages To Be Both Charming And Annoying.

By Stacey Richter

SEPTEMBER 28, 1998:  IF YOU CLOSE your eyes and mush together all the indie movies you've ever seen, eventually you'll visualize Buffalo 66--a gritty, interesting, annoying, charming and frustrated little adventure film created almost entirely by one man, the former Calvin Klein model Vincent Gallo. The shadows of Cassavetes, Spike Lee, early Scorsese, and a bit of Godard crowd onto the screen and duke it out for alpha-male status under the watchful eye of Gallo, who seems to have controlled as much of this production as is humanly possible. He wrote, directed, starred, composed, sang, and apparently chose all the settings and costumes himself. What a control freak! And the movie is about, surprise, a down-and-out ex-con control freak.

Gallo has been showing art in galleries and acting in films by independent directors like Able Ferrara and Clare Denis for years while remaining relatively unknown. The intriguing thing about Gallo is that unlike most Hollywood actors, he seems to have a real, actual personality he's not interested in hiding. In Buffalo 66, Gallo plays a contrary, romantic, neurotic ex-con who longs for the love of the unpleasant parents he hates. Gallo has hinted that the story is based in his own experience growing up in Buffalo, and has proved himself to be as difficult and controlling offscreen as on. (After the release of Buffalo 66, he declared that he would only grant interviews to magazines that agreed to put him on the cover.) He talks trash about the business of Hollywood and he names names. Gallo truly fancies himself a bad boy. He reminds me of Courtney Love before she hired a team of publicists to hot wax her image.

And so there's something sincere about Buffalo 66 that's often missing from movies. On screen, as Billy Brown, Gallo projects a sense of neediness masked by bravado so palpable it transcends the slick conventions of Hollywood acting. (Though I feel obliged to include the warning: Just because it has an aura of being real doesn't mean it's not irritating.) Billy was an awkward class nerd who has grown up into a fake-tough virgin. He longs to please his parents even as he hates them for rejecting him in favor of the object of their deepest affection, pro football. He's been in jail for five years, but, in true Taxi Driver style, he's informed his folks that he's working for the government and so has not been able to visit. (Gallo also wears the '70s wardrobe of the young Robert DeNiro, only tighter.) Since he's told them he's married, he has to kidnap Layla, a little tap dancer in a babydoll nightgown (Christina Ricci) to bring along to play his bride when he goes for a visit.

Though Billy is the kidnapper, it quickly becomes apparent that Layla is really in charge. Billy forces her into her car, only to admit that he can't drive a stick shift. Given this, Layla doesn't really seem to mind being kidnapped, and with pouting sweetness agrees to act the role of Billy's wife for his parents. Revenge is an age-old driving force in the arts, and in Buffalo 66, Gallo seems to really give it to his parents. Ben Gazarra and Angelica Houston play the distracted couple on the verge of psychosis without actually being nuts. They ignore their son so habitually that when Layla asks to see pictures of him as a boy, his mom asks, "Where's the picture of Billy?" as though there were only one. Layla plays up her wifely role to the hilt, saying Billy is the most handsome man in the world, etc., while her "father-in-law" paws her and coos, "Daddy loves you."

Ricci is very cute in this role, and has received raves for her performance. She certainly exhibits an undeniable, wide-eyed princess charm. Nevertheless, I found the part so underwritten that it's difficult to attribute her pleasingness to good acting--the amazing sparkly outfit she wears is equally captivating. Billy's life is explained to us so thoroughly that there seems to be no room for Layla. He has parents, a childhood, friends, and a history. Layla has nothing--during this adventure she never calls anyone on the phone. When they need a place to stay they get a motel room, because presumably she doesn't even have an apartment. She's almost like a figure in a dream, and in fact she's reminiscent of the girl in the radiator in Eraserhead--a trapped little doll who's very existence depends on the dreamer.

In the end, the film is all about Billy, and by extension Gallo. This would probably be a better thing if Gallo had a brilliant cinematic vision, instead of a knack for re-sharpening '70s film chops. Frankly, it gets to be a bit much. Let's hope that in his next film, Gallo will figure out how to leave in the charming parts without being so annoying at the same time.

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