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Monday, September 21, 2009

WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU -- DVD review by porfle

Another one of those sad "runaway kids surviving on the mean streets of L.A." tales, WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU (1992) is a decent enough flick whose main interest is a spot-the-stars cast loaded with young up-and-coming actors.

Dermot Mulroney gives a solid performance as King, an older street kid who's more thoughtful and responsible than most and tries to take care of the younger, more naive ones. His best friends are Greg (Sean Astin), a self-destructive speed freak, and the more laidback Crasher (James Le Gros, who played the goat roper who escapes from the bar slaughter in NEAR DARK). King is especially protective of the vulnerable, unstable Little J (Balthazar Getty) and a pretty new arrival, Heather (Lara Flynn Boyle).

The kids are always on the run from the cops, including Adam Baldwin and Rachel Ticotin as Officers Black and Landers. Meanwhile, Greg grows ever closer to being seduced into heroin use by vile drug dealer Ted (Kyle MacLachlan) while Little J reluctantly begins earning extra cash as a boy-toy for an aging perv (Stephen Tobolowsky, best known as "Sammy Jankis" in MEMENTO) and becomes a danger to society when he finds a gun. King, wanting to escape to a better life with his new girlfriend Heather, eventually finds himself unable to keep on protecting his friends from both society and themselves.

Not nearly as gritty as some other films of its kind, WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU is a somewhat romanticized take on the subject which eschews cinema verite' for a slicker pictorial style from director and co-writer Marc Rocco (adopted son of actor Alex Rocco). The kids may sleep under a bridge but they seem happy enough and don't look all the worse for wear--girls like Heather and Kimmy (Alyssa Milano) are perky and pretty, Ricki Lake's "Brenda" doesn't seem to be missing any meals, and most of the guys wouldn't look out of place at your typical keg party. (They often tell each other that they smell bad, but they don't look like they do.)

Sean Astin's character seems to be on the fastest track to oblivion--he hits rock bottom when he wakes up in his own vomit on the floor of Ted's filthy apartment after his first heroin trip--yet he comes from a non-abusive middle-class home to which he could return at any time, so I found it hard to feel all that sorry for him. Will Smith as "Manny", on the other hand, has it the hardest since he's missing both legs and is confined to a wheelchair, yet he's one of the most cheerful and self-reliant characters. Smith appears only briefly in a few scenes, but his attack by a brutal pimp named Tommy Ray (Peter Dobson) who's out for revenge against King sets up Tommy Ray's murder by one of the group, which ultimately leads to tragedy.

It's surprising (and a little distracting) how many familiar faces pop up during this movie in addition to all those previously mentioned. Laura San Giacomo appears throughout as a video interviewer trying to get King to open up to her about life on the streets. Christian Slater is the director of a rehab center where Greg stays for a brief time before escaping. Nancy McKeon, effectively casting off her "Facts of Life" image, plays Ted's foulmouthed girlfriend. Leo Rossi is Greg's father, and David Arquette plays Kimmy's boyfriend Rob.

There seems to be no escape for these kids even when some of them finally decide to take a bus out of town. Not only do they have no actual destination in mind, and are thus unlikely to be heading for any kind of a better life, but fate continues to work against them. Here, during a climactic bus station sequence, the film could've used a grittier and more natural style in order to give greater impact to what happens. As it is, much of the effect is diluted by self-conscious direction, too much slow motion, and a mood-killing Melissa Etheridge song that's meant to be deeply moving but isn't. A prolonged epilogue also tries to give the ending more emotional weight than it has actually earned.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Surround 2.0, and offers subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. The theatrical trailer is included.

While not a perfect film, and not quite as powerful as it intends to be, WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU is still an engaging and sometimes moving story with characters you can care about, and numerous young actors giving noteworthy performances. It's definitely worth checking out as long as you're not expecting to be blown away.

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