'Suede': Unfortunately, Brad Pitt doesn't wear it well

February 05, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

I can deal with people who want to be Elvis or Albert Einstein or Joan of Arc. But . . . Ricky Nelson?

That's the central problem of the dim "Johnny Suede," a bit of hipper-than-thou foolishness stopping at the Westview for what will certainly be a brief spell.

It stars Brad Pitt's hair as the silly Johnny Suede, wannabe '50s pop singer who is unhappily at sea in the inhospitable '90s. Alas, underneath Brad Pitt's hair is the actual Brad Pitt, who is not nearly so interesting.

His hair is great. It's about a foot tall and preserved in the amber of industrial strength shellac. A family of gibbons could easily inhabit its triple-canopy darkness; a small colony of nuns could become lost it; you could sail the African Queen through it and sink a German gunboat. Pitt wouldn't even notice.

He's so busy trying to represent post-adolescent stupidity and vulnerability, a specialty of his. He has achieved renown lately for performances in "Thelma & Louise," and, most recently, "A River Runs Through It." "Johnny Suede," made for pennies in between the two, won't do a thing to help him. In it, he just runs around looking as if he hadn't read the script, assuming there was a script.

The whole thing is too preciously conceived. Johnny listens to Ricky on records at night, and in the daylight tries to get something going with a variety of losers as vapid and uninteresting as himself. He's a house painter with a bad band; he falls in and out of drab romantic entanglements without a lot of commitment one way or the other.

His anomie is calculated to be amusing to youth-cult panderers, but for grown-ups it soon begins to feel oppressive. He needs a boot in the butt or three years in the Marine Corps. He doesn't need a week at the Westview.

"Johnny Suede"

Starring Brad Pitt.

Directed by Tom DiCillo.

Released by Miramax.

Rated R.


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