Picks and Pans Review: Kids

updated 08/07/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny

The more you try to sort out your feelings about this controversial exercise in teenage nihilism, the more bothered you become, until you look in the mirror and realize you have turned into Andy Rooney and are starting to say unkind things about Kurt Cobain.

Kids evolved out of first-time director Larry Clark's fascination with skateboarders in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, where he met high school dropout—and aspiring screenwriter—Harmony Korine, then 18. Clark, 52, commissioned Korine to write a skateboard saga that wound up as this pseudo-documentary about a summer's day in the life of a bunch of drinking, drugging, sexually promiscuous (and unprotected) New York City teenagers. (Not surprisingly, there's also fabulous video footage of skateboarding.)

The main, if not quite central, characters in Kids are a girl (Sevigny) who learns that she is HIV-positive and the one boy (Fitzpatrick) she has ever had intercourse with. This provides the movie with its skeletal plot, as Sevigny, who suggests a coarser version of the young Mia Farrow, tries to find Fitzpatrick, a disarmingly goofy 17-year-old with the muffled articulation of Jinx the Cat, before he infects again. It's a cheap, exploitive gimmick, but effective. The movie is a high school health instructor's dream come true. Show this to students, and they won't be having sex until their 30s. They may never have sex at all.

Kids is beautifully photographed. Every image is documentary natural, yet artfully composed. But why pretend that this is any more authentic an emotional portrait of today's youth than, say, National Lampoon's Animal House? The kids crawl from apartment to apartment, from cab to club, from indulgence to indulgence, depravity to depravity with lobotomized indifference, while rock music grumbles and blares on the soundtrack. Very depressing, yes. Yet even the most desensitized human being inevitably betrays some sign of inner life. These teenagers are troll dolls, eyes like glass, on the road to hell. How can you be doomed and boring at the same time? Kids has been touted as shockingly empathetic, but it feels more like the work of a grownup having problems with his inner child.

If you want to see this sort of thing done right, rent Drugstore Cowboy, Streetwise or Buñuel's Los Olvidados. (not rated)

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