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The Sunday Film Review.Rourke Factor: Buffalo 66

Posted on by sam

Buffalo 66/The Rourke Factor: Mickey I’m starting to know ya

Director: Vincent Gallo (1998)

A long time ago in a Rourke Factor far far away………….

Tired of up sterling performances making me feel a fool for not knowing more (anything) about the fantastic talent that is Mickey Rourke, I started looking at his ‘wilderness years’. Last time I dabbled into far too self aware Belgian indie film Shades. For the next instalment, I wanted to look at another film from Rourkes ‘wilderness years’, because, while I’m not sure how much I enjoyed Shades, the performance from Rourke wasn’t that bad at all, lazier than some of his more celebrated years maybe, but not bad. The brain damaged girl who currently allows me to violate her, (though perhaps not after she reads that half of this sentence) picked Buffalo 66 as the next film to watch in my Rourke Factor list, and happily, it just so happens to be more indie faire from Rourkes wilderness years.


Buffalo 66, directed by Vincent Gallo, written by Vincent Gallo, starring Vincent Gallo as the boringly named Billy Brown, is the semi-biographical story of the life of Vincent Gallo. Know who I’m guessing likes Vincent Gallo?



We first meet Billy (That’s Vincent Gallo if you haven’t kept up) as he’s released from prison and searching desperately for a place to urinate. Thwarted in his quest for relief by a combination of anti-social hours, bad timing, parked cars and an unfortunate homophobic outburst, a ratty Billy calls his parents.

The problem is Billy never actually told his parents he was in jail, as far as they know, he’s happily married and has some high flying government job, which totally isn’t spying on everyone through the internet. Billy doesn’t want to confess to his parents his wonder life is a lie, so he hits upon the obvious solution of kidnapping a girl taking a break from her nearby tap-dancing lesson, and forcing her with threats of violence to pretend to be his wife.

The girl in question is Layla, (Christina Ricci…………… no, must forget Casper, forget, forget!) the single most easily influenced girl in film history. On the back of some very weak and unenforceable threats, Layla ignores a billion and one easy chances to escape, willing cleans her car for Billy, drives him to his parents house, (stopping on the way so he can finally pee) charms his parents, goes bowling with Billy afterwards, and basically falls in love with him. Maybe she’s just really really attracted to guys who make tame misogynistic threats.

Regardless of why Layla feels her needs are absolutely subservient to those of a man who threatened her, kidnapped her and lied to his parents, it’s got to be said she does a sterling job of endearing herself to said parents. This deserves credit, because Billy’s parents are basically dickheads. His mum Jan (a wonderful Anjelica Huston) is an American football (why call it football when like 90% of the thing is hands) obsessive who doesn’t remember what food her only child is seriously allergic to.

The most misnamed sport in history


Jan also thinks it suitable to declare to her sons wife how much she regrets the birth of her son, as it cost her a chance to see her favourite American football team win, not winning a mother of the year award with that one. Billy’s Dad Jimmy (Ben Gazzara, a fantastic talent, R.I.P) is just as bad. Perving on Layla like there’s no tomorrow, Jimmy spends most of his time on screen arguing and accusing his son of threats, or singing very bland crooner songs.

The rest of the story concerns Billy’s background, basically he made a bad bet, and in order to pay off his debts to a bookie (Mickey Rourke, more on that later) he had to take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. Now out of prison, Billy’s mission is to maintain his lie to his parents, while enacting a serious and forthright revenge on an American football player who made a mistake during the game which cost Billy his bet. The rest of the film features cameos from Roseanna Arquette (pulp Fiction, piercing, enough said) as an ex-girlfriend of Billys, Kevin Corrigan (to independent American cinema what Samuel L Jackson is to Marvel Studio films) plays a guy named Goon, and Jan-Michael Vincent (he was the original pilot in Airwolf…………..and Airwolf rocked as much as Casper sucked) as a bowling alley owner with a nice smile.

Plot summary……………………………… ends


Problem: Rourkes cameo lasts maybe four minutes. It’s a flashback scene where he sits in a chair and coldly convinces Billy to repay his debt by taking the fall for someone else. It seems to me, in cinema terms, four minutes isn’t that long at all, and it would be unfair bordering on unprofessional to make judgements on a man’s motivation, mental or economic state based on a four minute performance. Butttttttttttttt, life isn’t fair and I’m a horrible wannabe indie filmmaker with a self-imposed gimmick to fulfil.

Rourke looks pale and kind of bored. He delivers his lines well enough, and in a ‘killing with kindness’ moment, you could definitely describe his performance as perfunctory. It’s just not an interesting performance; there’s no gusto, no sense of menace and no real emotion. It’s not bad, but as I said with Shades, not bad in the context of Mickey Rourke’s talent is a waste. I am noticing a theme from this period of indie films and phoned in performances, but it’s only been two films and I’m pretty sure there are a lot to go through. Plus it’s only four minutes, which incidentally is about how long my love-making sessions last.


Away from Mr Rourke, Buffalo 66 is an odd sort of film. It’s very independent, with deliberate, long drawn out camera work and odd little character moments that break the narrative, and while some parts I loved, there were some I absolutely hated.

I’ll start with what I loved; Christina Ricci, the lady was 17 when she delivered this performance, and while her character is (in my opinion) an idiot, she plays her part incredibly well. So well in fact, despite the blandness of Layla, I couldn’t help getting attached and interested in watching her. Put another way: Girl got talent. Likewise the support cast, with the exception of Rourke go all out, they’re over the top but this is a film that needed just that. Rosanna Arquette’s cameo was particularly fun, in a cringe sort of way.Gallo gives a pretty decent performance too.

Next, well, while there are some slow, drawn out bits, there are some genuinely funny moments in Buffalo 66, maybe it was the absurdity of the situation, maybe I just needed to laugh after getting screwed over so heavily by John Lewis (no, I will never forgive them), whatever the reason, there were times I found myself belly laughing despite myself.

But for all the good, there are some almost but not quite deal breaker moments for me here; the camera focusing on an arbitrary subject for no reason, tons of expository and poorly written dialogue and an attempt to use music to manipulate me into caring for a character I have no other possible reason to care about.

There’s also some maddening art house stuff; a picture in picture effect can be a cool tool to create an interesting image, but when you throw about eighteen pictures into a picture, and they’re all supposed to be important, character forming childhood moments, and yet they all occur on screen at the exact same time, you don’t give me any insight into a character, you give me a cluttered mess and leave me with no idea what to focus on.

All in all, I didn’t hate Buffalo 66, but nor did I like it, I watched it, I don’t regret doing so and now I never have to do it again. There, you decide if that’s a recommendation or not.

Final thought, there was some fallout from Buffalo 66, a few years after release, Gallo, in a total dick move, made some pretty disparaging remarks about Ricci, you can read them here. I’m not sure, but maybe it has something to do with the fact very few people care as much about Vincent Gallo as Vincent Gallo cares about Vincent Gallo, and perhaps, Ricci is the more successful of the two? Either way Gallo comes off as pretty classless.

Written by Sam ‘Got a kick but not from Buffalo 66’ McKinstrie

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