Picks and Pans Review: The Basketball Diaries

updated 05/01/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/01/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg

In this adaptation of poet-rocker Jim Carroll's teenage autobiography, 20-year-old DiCaprio proves yet again that he's the most promising actor around. Carroll, who grew up in working-class New York City neighborhoods in the '60s, was a heroin addict who briefly ended up on the streets. This means that DiCaprio has one plummy, drug-related scene after another—shooting up, collapsing, screaming, weeping, bleeding—over and over. As far as this stuff goes, DiCaprio's performance is flawless. The real pleasure, perhaps, is observing how naturally he carries himself in front of the camera.

And Wahlberg, still probably best known as rapper Marky Mark, is surprisingly good as Carroll's thuggish boyhood friend. It's a one-note role, but so what?

Still, there's an enormous element missing from Diaries. You see this kid fighting with his mother, hanging out on the basketball court, visiting a dying friend in the hospital and enduring various rites of passage—standard American Boy Agonistes. But you have no sense of the birth of Carroll the writer, who began publishing his journals in small presses when he was 13, and in The Paris Review in 1970 (they weren't released in book form until 1978, when he was almost 30). This movie could use an infusion of authentic adolescent poetry—even bad adolescent poetry. The only such moment is provided in a cameo by Carroll himself, as a junkie. Whatever it is he says is nonsense, but it's vividly boozy and clearly the work of someone who is aware of how to sculpt words for effect. (R)

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