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Movie Review : 'Bullies': Generic Trash With The Usual Revenge

September 01, 1986|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"Bullies" (citywide) is one more trashy variation on a morally dubious theme, another cookie-cutter vendetta saga in which a family is pressed to the wall by sadistic scum until they erupt in Old Testament fury.

It's set in Kimberly--a British Columbia city on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. The air is pure and cold. But the people aren't.

The normal family that's come here in search of rustic solitude are the Morrises: son Matt, mother Jenny and stepfather Clay. (If you know revenge movies, you can guess that Jenny will be raped and Matt and Clay nearly murdered before curtain time.) Their nemeses are the nefarious Cullens: patriarch Jonah (William Nunn) and his three scrofulous sons.

Boy, are these guys bullies. When we first see them, they chase an elderly couple around a mountain road and push them off a cliff. They swagger into grocery stores and steal food, swagger into bars and paw women. They crack people's hands in vises. Everywhere they go, they glower and leer. And whenever they show up, the sheriff takes off his badge or disappears.

The film makers never bother to explain the sinister hold the Cullens have on this town. They're generic villains: just as daughter Becky Cullen is a generic ingenue, the Morrises are a generic threatened family and the sheriff is a generic helpless cop.

In fact, this is a generic revenge movie--full of the usual bloodletting and moralizing--in which the generic bullies commit despicable atrocities until the generic heroes get fed up and commit atrocities of their own. This keys a bloody holocaust which apparently settles all accounts, restores the moral order, and signals the beginning of a generic end-credits disco revenge title song.

Director Paul Lynch--also responsible for the generic slasher movie, "Prom Night"--keeps the movie fast and empty. He seems to be one of those young razzle-dazzle directors who can do everything with a camera but put something decent in front of it. The cast members are mostly undistinguished, although Dehl Berti, as the standard wise old Indian, Will Crow, has some good moments.

At one point, the screenwriters give Crow a line from Howard Hawks. When Matt--played by Jonathan Crombie, the inexperienced son of the Canadian Federal Minister of Indian Affairs--compliments the artistry of his totem-pole carving, Crow demurs, saying "I'm just a storyteller." This is a case of pretentious modesty. The people who made "Bullies" (MPAA rated: R) are neither good artists nor good storytellers. They probably couldn't carve a passable totem pole either.

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