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Johnny Handsome is a deformed gangster who plans a successful robbery with a friend of his, Mikey Chalmette, and another couple (Sunny Boid and Rafe Garrett). During the heist, Johnny and Mikey are double-crossed by Sunny and Rafe---Mikey is killed and Johnny sent to prison. While in prison, Johnny is invited to a rehabilitation program, where Dr. Steven Fischer rebuilds Johnny's face and helps Johnny get paroled. Johnny starts working in a shipyard, where he meets Donna McCarty and starts a romance. Lt. A.Z. Drones is a skeptical detective who follows the rehabilitation of Johnny. Johnny's new life is consumed by the desire of payback. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Compromised Hill film buoyed by three terrific performances
"Johnny Handsome" is a flawed but fascinating work from Walter Hill. Mickey Rourke is great as a deformed criminal who returns to avenge the people (Ellen Barkin and Lance Henriksen) who wronged him. The conceit of the premise is that Johnny's enemies will not see him coming with his new face, a face rebuilt after his ugly one was cut to pieces. Unfortunately, this potentially rich premise is quickly discarded and the film becomes a more standard crime yarn with a pointless love story thrown in. Johnny's love interest, Elizabeth McGovern, who was great in a similar role in "Racing With The Moon", is wasted and just doesn't belong in this material.
Lance Henriksen and Ellen Barkin are great as two of the oiliest lowlifes to impact with a movie screen in years. Barkin's pronunciation of the word "geek", when referring to Rourke's character, is hilarious, as is the crime couple's incessant badgering of each other. If the film had focused more on this duo and less on McGovern and another subplot involving Forest Whitaker, who is saddled with a dreadfully written role as a doctor who tries to help Johnny, it would have been a true contender.
The opening robbery scene is classic Hill -- brutal and economical -- and sets high expectations for the mayhem to come. Ry Cooder's slide guitar score is mesmerizing, and Mathew F. Leonetti's cinematography is moody and beguiling.
Ultimately, the film is a gritty pulp crime novel compromised by studio concessions. Which is such a crying shame.
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