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Kino // PG-13 // February 6, 2018
List Price: $15.69 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 14, 2018 | E-mail the Author
Boys is a rarity -- a failure with a real sense of value to it. Although its elements don't come together into something cohesively satisfying, it's hard to watch the film and not feel like writer/director Stacy Cochran was close to something, that with a few tweaks and adjustments, the sensation of a vision underneath the pieces would have been able to shine through. A big piece of that is down to her casting, with the movie featuring Winona Ryder, Lukas Haas, Skeet Ulrich, James LeGros, John C. Reilly, Wiley Wiggins, Chris Cooper, Jessica Harper, and even Catherine Keener in a tiny role, but Cochran also has an odd little story that doesn't quite work but feels as if it was getting at something original.

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 Blu-ray
As is Kino Lorber's tradition, Boys arrives on Blu-ray with its original artwork intact, which mostly just spotlights star Winona Ryder and offers no indication of the plot. The rest of the art follows their traditional, simple, white-text-on-black-backdrop layout, with the bonus features in a blue box. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is a booklet inside the case advertising other Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases.

The Video and Audio
Fans of Boys will be disappointed to hear that Kino Lorber's 1.85:1 1080p AVC presentation of the film is perhaps the weakest video effort I've seen by the company, although of course they must make do with what the studios have provided. In wide shots, the image appears almost standard definition, with simultaneously blurry yet sharpened edges on the dark tree branches set against bright sky, and a distinct lack of film grain to give facial images any texture. Colors are fine but on the drab side, and depth is non-existent. Sound is a comparatively better but unremarkable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which does a fine enough job capturing the film's simple sound mix (mostly dialogue, with little to no ambient or background noise), although the '90s rock songs on the soundtrack sound a bit flat. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also provided.

The Extras
Kino Lorber has produced a decent package of extras for Boys' Blu-ray debut. First up is an audio commentary by writer/director Stacy Cochran. As far as I can tell, this is a newly-recorded track (I can't find any evidence of it being included on a previous DVD or Laserdisc release), and it's an interesting one, with Cochran willing to look back on the project with a critical eye. She openly discusses where the film diverged from her original vision, due to her own choices, due to corporate decisions, or simply due to things beyond her control (such as the available location for the school). The track has an especially honest feel thanks to Cochran audibly reflecting on or picking her words in the middle of a thought, which is a quality that I can't recall hearing on many audio commentaries.

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.

Although the commentary is worth a listen, Boys is a mediocre movie granted a mediocre Blu-ray release. Even fans of the movie will likely be underwhelmed by the substandard video presentation, even if the nice special features package is a plus. Rent it.

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