Picks and Pans Review: Johnny Handsome

updated 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin

This divertingly old-fashioned cops-and-robbers movie is reminiscent of the 1947 Humphrey Bogart film Dark Passage, in which he played a gangster who underwent plastic surgery to change his identity. Here, Rourke is a cheap crook born with a grotesque facial deformity. After his one and only friend is double-crossed and killed by their partners in a New Orleans coin shop heist, he ends up in jail, where he becomes part of an experimental facial-reconstruction program. The surgery leaves Rourke looking just like the guy who was so mean to Kim Basinger in 9½ Weeks. Then he's released, starts feeling decent impulses and takes up with a sweet young woman, Elizabeth McGovern. This allows for exploration of another theme familiar to Bogart fans—the career criminal who turns soft but is too far gone to go straight.

While the violence is excessive and graphic, Walter (48HRS) Hill's aversion to sensitivity serves him well in this movie, since it allows his actors to caricature to their hearts' content. Barkin, as the foulmouthed floozy who is one of the double-crossers, seems to be enjoying the chance to engage in piranha-like viciousness. Rourke overdoes the realism at times. Before the operation, he is supposed to have a speech defect, and he is practically impossible to understand. Lost souls are his specialty, though, and this one suits him.

One thing: the 1984 spoof Johnny Dangerously would have seemed to have put a crimp in the use of Johnny titles in serious gangster movies. What about, say, Ronny Handsome, or Bobby Handsome, or Harry... Never mind. (R)

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