2002, Movie, R, 110 mins


Nicolas Cage's directing debut is the torrid tale of a gigolo trying to get out of the business and the manipulative mama who keeps pulling him back in. New Orleans, 1981. After a brief stint in the army, 26-year-old Sonny Phillips (James Franco) returns home to Bourbon Street to bid farewell to his mother, down-at-the-heels brothel-owner Jewel (Brenda Blethyn), who taught him everything he knows about pleasing the ladies. Ashamed of his past and worried about the future — Sonny's been turning tricks since he was 12 and knows full well that hustling is a young man's game — Sonny plans to move to Texas City and make a fresh start working in a bookstore owned by the father of an army buddy (Scott Caan). Jewel, however, has other plans for her baby boy. She wants to team Sonny up with her latest acquisition, Carol (Mena Suvari), a sad-eyed runaway from Arkansas. Jewel figures that with Carol's charms — which Jewel isn't above offering to a sleazy bail bondsman in exchange for getting her boyfriend, Henry (Harry Dean Stanton), out of jail — and Sonny's legendary prowess, she'll soon be back in business. Ignoring Jewel's threats and pleas, Sonny takes off for Texas, but soon learns that Jesse's father has died and the bank has foreclosed on his store. Worse, Sonny's inability to handle the "straight world"'s hypocrisy sends him fleeing to New Orleans, where the bosom of his loving mother and an on again/off again relationship with Carol await. Back to turning tricks, Sonny laughs when poor, deluded Carol tells him that she's only in the biz so she can have a future — "This is your future," he tells her. But to Sonny's considerable surprise, Carol has found a way out that doesn't include him: Unless Sonny can find a way to escape Jewel and the life she's made for him, Carol is going to marry local used-car salesman Troy (Graham Timbes). Steamy stuff, and just the kind of southern potboiler that, without a watchful eye and an even hand keeping it at a slow simmer, quickly reduces to third-rate Tennessee Williams. Unfortunately, there's never been anything particularly even-handed about Cage — his cameo as a gay pimp named Acid Yellow manages to be the biggest thing in an already overblown production. With the exception of Stanton's marvelous performance, everything needs to be taken down several notches, from Franco's histrionic anguish to Blethyn's larger-than-life impersonation of Shelley Winters at her blowsiest. It's just plain lurid when it isn't downright silly, and that "drunk cam," a blurred, cockeyed lens through which Sonny's soused point-of-view is shown, is just a terrible idea. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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