Working from an 8-page James Salter short story in which the protagonist dies, Cochran develops a loose, rambling narrative about a young girl, Patty Vare (Ryder), clearly running from some sort of incident that has a local cop, Curry (Reilly) on her trail. When Curry shows up at her house and tells her he'll be back later for more questions, Patty hops on a horse and seems to run, only to fall off and get knocked unconscious when the horse fails to make a jump. Through a series of strange coincidences, she is discovered by local prep school student Baker (Haas), who takes her back to his dorm. For whatever reason, Baker senses that Patty is running from something, and that taps into his own desire to run, from a future that has already been set in motion by his over-controlling father, John Baker Sr. (Cooper).
On their own, each of these stories is semi-interesting, if in need of further development: Patty the frightened 20-something wrapped up in a situation she didn't create, and Baker the casual rebel (he doesn't hate his father, but he knows that what his father wants from him isn't the freedom he desires). However, the two stories don't seem to mesh with each other particularly well, making it weird when Cochran inevitably draws them together, and even less convincingly develops it into a romance, which makes Baker seem creepy and makes no sense from Patty's perspective (the age difference between the two feels noticeable, and Ryder and Haas have no chemistry with each other). Cochran also spends almost half of the movie's runtime on business that has nothing to do with the central story -- getting Baker to the field, getting Patty into the dorm, hiding Patty in the dorm, etc.
Male writer/directors rightfully come under fire for writing tone-deaf caricatures of teenage girls, and while Cochran's boys and men are not that bad, much of the aforementioned business grows out of strange writing for Baker's friends, John Phillips (Wiggins) and John Van Sleider (Russell Young) -- almost every male character in the movie is named John -- who fight with Baker over the presence of Patty. It's unclear if they're jealous of the idea that Baker is spending time with a girl or if they're just mad that he's keeping a secret from them, but their fight takes up a significant amount of screen time. The character of Fenton Ray (James Le Gros) also feels weird, a man who pops up and knows something about Patty but has no other function in the film. Reilly's Curry is not much of an antagonist, either -- Cochran would've been better off developing more of Chris Cooper's father character to help tell the viewer more about Baker.
The backbone of the movie is the reveal of what happened to Patty to lead her to the field, and the truth is fairly predictable, involving a hotshot baseball player named Bud Valentine (Ulrich). Ryder's performance throughout is engaging, but there's no real dramatic weight to any of her story, causing the movie to fall apart. Nonetheless, there's a sense of something different in the rubble, a movie about strangers that doesn't feel overly cliche or familiar, even when pieces of it register as tried-and-true. Boys may not be successful, but unlike many failed film projects, at least it feels like there was some earnest effort that went into the swing.
The Video and Audio
Video extras are all vintage. First, there is an extremely lengthy combined clip of Skeet Ulrich and Lukas Haas's audition tapes (28:56), which shows both actors auditioning for the lead role of Baker. It's interesting to see Ulrich read the lines of the more sensitive student, even though as Cochran clearly determined, he has an edgy quality that makes him feel wrong for the role. This is followed by a "Production Story" featurette (4:07), which is simultaneously pretentious (the cast breaking down and talking up the story) and extremely mid-'90s (the graphics and editing), and a short reel of selected B-roll (3:48) from the set of the film. Finally, there is a music video for Cast's song "Alright" (3:42) featuring clips from the film.
An original theatrical trailer for Boys is also included, as well as a bonus trailer for the Kino release of another Winona Ryder movie, The Crucible.