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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

BOY WONDER -- DVD review by porfle

What if Bruce Wayne was just a poor urban kid?  And instead of justice for his parents' killers, he was fueled by a burning lust for revenge? What if, instead of flinging Bat-a-rangs at the bad guys, he just friggin' shot them? 

I went into BOY WONDER (2010) thinking it was going to be a streetwise-teen superhero flick, but I couldn't have been more wrong.  It isn't even a "cheer the vigilante" story (think DEATH WISH) because, even though Sean Donovan (Caleb Steinmeyer) does put a satisfying hurt on some guys who richly deserve it, he's way too messed up himself for us to consider him a hero.  In fact, in the latter half of the film he starts to lose it much the same way Michael Landon's troubled teen did in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (both characters shock their peers by going mental at a party).

After watching his mother (Tracy Middendorf) get murdered during a carjacking as a kid, Sean becomes obsessed with finding the killer.  An indulgent police captain (Chuck Cooper) who was there that night allows him to peruse the mug shot files daily, little suspecting that Sean is taking note of particularly offensive individuals and visiting them after hours.  His training in boxing and martial arts comes in handy against pimps, drug dealers, and other violent scum, as does his automatic pistol.

Pretty soon the trail of bodies attracts the attention of newly-promoted homicide detective Teresa Ames (the lovely Zulay Henao), who follows it straight to Sean.  Meanwhile, a scumbag crime figure named Childs (James Russo) whom she sacrificed two years of her life plus her marriage to put away is cutting a sweet deal with the D.A.  Though this weakens her own faith in the system, she still believes in "due process", a term Sean bitterly scoffs at.  As she gets closer to arresting him, he makes a discovery about his mother's death that will make him more dangerous than ever.

Initially, though, watching Sean get jiggy with the bad guys really satisfied my revenge tooth in a big way.  Having grown up with an alcoholic father (Bill Sage) who abused him and his mother, he's particularly protective of damsels in distress.  He also takes on a huge mental case harassing people on the subway in one of the film's best confrontations (and the only time in which Sean appears in full regalia of black hoodie and streaked-on warpaint).  These are down and dirty clashes that aren't really "fight scenes" per se--BOY WONDER isn't about cool choreography and flashy moves but realistic, gritty violence that does Sean spiritual damage every time he inflicts it.

There's a lot of tension in the scenes between Sean and his recovering alcoholic dad, who wants to make amends for his years of drunken abuse.  This situation will deteriorate further in surprising ways.  The film's only humor comes in the scenes with Teresa and her endearingly insensitive big-lug partner Gary (Daniel Stewart Sherman), while their investigation provides some cockeyed police-procedural flavor as a counterpoint to Sean's nocturnal exploits.  The relationship between Sean and Teresa, at first sympathetic and civil, becomes an interesting battle of wits.  (The Chinese restaurant scene is a real hoot.)

Caleb Steinmeyer gives a powerful performance as Sean, the kind in which every move and facial nuance adds to our fascination with the character.  The rest of the cast are uniformly good as well, and, in the small but pivotal role of Childs, James Russo is as fun to watch as ever.  Writer-director Michael Morrissey directs with a sure hand and adds to the tension of the more frenetic scenes with a jittery editing style that's very effective. 

The DVD from Inception Media Group is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  No subtitles but closed-captioning is available.  Extras consist of a "making of" featurette and the trailer.

With a stunning final twist, BOY WONDER leaves the viewer with conflicting emotions that may take longer than the closing credits to work out.  What if Peter Parker went a little nuts after Uncle Ben died, and he traded in his web cartridges for brass knuckles and bullets?  Would he always take out the right people?  There are no easy answers, but watching this movie pose the questions is a whole lot of fun.

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