Picks and Pans Review: Barfly

UPDATED 11/02/1987 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/02/1987 at 01:00 AM EST

This low-budget movie about lowlifes sure doesn't sound promising. Look at the stars: Mopey, mumbling Mickey Rourke proved he could induce instant audience torpor in 9½ Weeks, Angel Heart and A Prayer for the Dying. As for Faye Dunaway, she has been letting her mannerisms do her acting for years. Why bother watching these two playacting as down-and-out drunks? Because they're both terrific this time, that's why. Because Charles (Tales of Ordinary Madness) Bukowski, the booze-hound laureate, has written them wonderfully mad and funny roles, that's another why. But mostly because Barfly is a movie like no other—charming, hypnotic and brazenly comic. Director Barbet (More, General Idi Amin Dada) Schroeder convinced Bukowski to do a screenplay loosely based on his life among the transients in sleazy East Hollywood. Rourke has a great, roaring time playing this bruised warrior. Beneath that mangy exterior beats the heart of a poet whose words never slop over into self-pity. As the lush he hooks up with, Dunaway—in a prize-worthy performance—is deglamorized but never declassed (oh, those cheekbones). Gazing at her still-gorgeous legs, she seems surprised and a little pleased at the beauty she can't drink away. Dunaway responds sexually to the fire in Rourke. Of course, she also responds to any man with the money for a bottle. This causes problems. So does sexy Alice Krige playing a rich literary snob who wants to publish Rourke's stories and test his prowess in bed. Krige and Dunaway have a hair-pulling contest; Rourke takes on a muscular barkeep (Frank Stallone). Schroeder keeps these lurching characters on course by staying heedful of Bukowski's affection for the strange intelligence and wit of these flophouse losers. "There were characters in those bars," Bukowski has said. "There was ugliness, there was dullness and stupidity. But there was also a certain gleeful high pitch you could feel there." Barfly makes you feel it too—a considerable accomplishment. (R)

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