Picks and Pans Review: Rumble Fish

updated 10/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

There is nothing more shocking in American movies right now than the decline of Francis (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) Coppola. Film historians may mark 1982 as the year Coppola stopped directing movies and began to settle instead for decorating them; his One From the Heart was a virtually plotless romance shot on a flamboyantly fake studio set. Strike One. Early in 1983 Coppola blew up S.E. Hinton's troubled-youth novel The Outsiders until its simple story exploded under his epic visuals. Strike Two. Now, with Rumble Fish (another tale of wayward youth from a Hinton book), Coppola has created an existentialist teen-gang movie set in an unidentified city in the unspecified near future. To that already bleak symbolic load he adds endless shots of clouds, smoke and assorted blight that all but crush the life out of the central characters. They are Mickey (Diner) Rourke as the Motorcycle Boy—the leader of the pack—and Matt (Tex) Dillon as the kid brother who lives in Rourke's shadow. Rourke, color-blind and half deaf from too many rumbles, sees the world like "a black-and-white TV screen with the sound off," which is also how Coppola apparently sees his film. Not even the talented Dillon and Rourke can make anything of impossible roles. Dennis (Easy Rider) Hopper (see page 125) as the boys' drunken father and Diane (The Outsiders) Lane as Dillon's girl fare better in smaller parts because they don't bear the weight of Coppola's more eccentric flights of fancy. In one scene Dillon's spirit rises from his body and flies over the neighborhood listening to imagined reactions to his death. Rourke must spout philosophy about pet-store fish; he wants to set them free. Get the parallel? Coppola shoots the fish in color (the rest of the film is in black and white) in case you miss the point. Such self-conscious tricks would be understandable in a film student; they're unforgivable in Coppola. Rumble Fish, for all its technical polish, is a definite Strike Three. (R)

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