Raggedy actors push movies' envelope

February 13, 1994|By Matthew Gilbert | Matthew Gilbert,Boston Globe

Remember the Brat Pack, that very hot "Breakfast Club" of 1980s actors who made youth look like a Coors beer commercial?

They were America's favorite image of growing up in the decade of greed. But don't fret if Andrew McCarthy, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe and Ally Sheedy have slipped your mind. Like Duran Duran and Milli Vanilli, they were eminently forgettable. Their movies were soapy. Their dialogue was dippy. Their hair was perfect.

Alas, the 1990s is serving up a scruffier, more notable set of young actors. The boys favor a rag-tag-and-stubble look -- they're Beatniks, not Neatniks. The girls, unconventional and intense, take an occasional turn in platinum, sampling Marilyn Monroe. All like to act hard, sometimes ferociously, fancying a tad of blood dribbling from one orifice or another. They look like Tom Waits' voice sounds. Their hair is ratty.

Who are the Young and the Ragged? In the delirious "Romeo Is Bleeding" they are elder scuzzmeister Gary Oldman and Juliette Lewis as his lonely other woman. In the spellbinding "Kalifornia," hitting video stores this week, they are Ms. Lewis and former beau Brad Pitt as an amoral serial killer.

In "True Romance," also just in stores, they are Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as perfectly lawless lovers. In "My Own Private Idaho," they are homeless hustlers Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix. No one, of course, does trashy like Jennifer Jason Leigh, so washed-out in "Miami Blues" and "Rush."

Naturally, filmmaker John Hughes -- the prime mover behind the Brat Pack -- has no part in this scruffy stuff. It's such filmmakers as Gus Van Sant and Quentin Tarantino who are going for the risky, stylized storytelling that is not gauged to score big at the box office.

Their young Americans are more than just miles from "Melrose Place." They are socioeconomic outcasts, nihilistic and apocalyptic. Unlike pat, "St. Elmo's Fire"-styled moral tales -- drugs are bad, marriage is good, apartments are everything -- these movies throw morality itself into the crucible. Neither the mob nor the cops are any good. In this summer's "Natural Born Killers," written by Mr. Tarantino and starring Ms. Lewis, the murderers are media stars.

As these movies focus on the fringe, watch the Young and the Ragged do their dance over the decline of civilization.

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