They're Just My Friends

2006, Movie, NR, 135 mins

Review

THEY'RE JUST MY FRIENDS
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If Attika J. Torrence's mishmash of genre cliches is really based on cowriter and star Patrick Nwamu Jr.'s personal story, then Nwamu has led quite a life. This ludicrously overstuffed and overlong drama throws together bits and pieces from boxing pictures, biker flicks, mob thrillers and interracial romances, stitching them together, like Frankenstein's monster, with a weird Freemasonry wrap that should confirm every conspiracy nut's theory about the secret society. Nwamu, an African-American cruiserweight who turned pro in 2000, stars as Pat, an aspiring pugilist and full-time victim of circumstance who doesn't have enough sense to stay away from the kind of bad guys who'll only wreck his career. No sooner does he decide that he wants to parlay his karate skills into a career as a professional boxer than Pat's childhood friend Anthony (Louis Vanaria) introduces him to his mobbed-up father (Thom Christopher) and two uncles, heads of an Italian-American crime family who ensure that "Punchin' Pat, the New York Kid" gets his name on all the right fights for a shot at the Golden Gloves. Pat also falls in with the members of a bike gang led by former boxer and convicted felon Big Al (WWF wrestler Al Snow), who runs the gym where Pat trains, and Pat is present when a barbeque turns into a deadly rumble with a rival gang. Pat's involvement with his social club back home in the Bronx and, more importantly, his late father's membership with a shadowy but powerful ancient secret society known alternately as "The Knights" and "The Lodge" help keep him somewhat grounded, but what trips him up is his love for Anthony's cousin, Gina (Rue Debona), a white woman from Howard Beach with a scary ex (John Bianco) who doesn't like the idea of his former girlfriend dating a black man. The fight that erupts one evening at a nightclub sends Pat to Rikers Island for a year (Pat, we now learn, has a prior prison record) for first-degree felony assault. Once he gets out, Pat realizes he's become the subject of a police investigation into a mob killing he once witnessed, and that another murder involving a hanger-on (Michael Chenevert) at the social club is threatening to start a war with a Dominican drug gang. The script has a meandering, let's-make-it-up-as-we-go-along feel, and key characters — like Pat — are rewritten midstream to jive with the plot's jolting changes in direction. If it weren't so long, this stinker might rank as a good-bad movie a la THE EXECUTIONER (1978), but at well over two hours it's merely exhausting, and the constant evocation of the fearsome power of "The Lodge," which proves Pat's salvation (Nwamu is himself a Freemason), is as silly-spooky as the White and Black Lodge hokum of Twin Peaks. The expensive-sounding soundtrack of this microbudget film somehow features tracks by Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music, Grandmaster Flash and Curtis Mayfield. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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