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With: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette, Jan-Michael Vincent, Anjelica Huston, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Corrigan
Written by: Vincent Gallo
Directed by: Vincent Gallo
MPAA Rating: R for language, strong violent images and scenes involving nudity
Running Time: 110
Date: 01/21/1998

Buffalo '66 (1998)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Bills and Kooks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by and starring Vincent Gallo, Buffalo '66 tells the story of a boy-man, who wears many shields and masks, and can't communicate his real feelings. The film seems to have the same problem, but it seeps into you anyway. Gallo was an actor in interesting films like Arizona Dream and Abel Ferrara's The Funeral. He has a pointy nose and jaw, and ferocious, sleepy eyes, like he's been awake for three days and he's pissed about it. The film opens when Gallo, playing Billy Brown, gets out of prison. The first thing he has to do is take a piss, and he looks all over creation for a place to do it. Here the film looks grim and gritty, like Drugstore Cowboy, and it doesn't come off funny. I'm not sure if it was supposed to.

He ends up in an aerobics class. He borrows a quarter from Layla (Christina Ricci), and calls his mother. He lies to her and tells her he's doing well, and is back in town. He kidnaps Layla and asks her to masquerade as his wife.

They go to Billy's parent's house. Now the film turns a little odd and funny. Billy's parents (Anjelica Huston and Ben Gazzara) are Buffalo Bills fans. Billy's mom admits that she missed the one Super Bowl that they won (in 1966), when she was giving birth to Billy. She says boldly that she wishes she never had him, then she wouldn't have missed that game. Billy's dad takes Layla into another room to "sing" for her. Instead he lip-syncs to a record, in a surreal scene that reminded me a lot of Dean Stockwell doing Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet.

Then the four sit at a table. The camera always sits at one edge of the table, and changes point of view every so often, so we get each character's view of the other three. We learn that Billy had bet $10,000 on the Bills to win the super bowl, lost, and had to go to jail in order to appease his creditor (played by Mickey Rourke in one vicious scene).

Meanwhile, Layla does a pretty good job of winning over the parents. Billy takes her to a bowling alley. It turns out Billy is good at bowling, probably the only thing he's good at. The lights go down, and Layla does a little surreal slow tap dance that reminded me of the girl in the radiator in David Lynch's Eraserhead. Then Billy decides he's going to kill the guy who blew the kick in the super bowl and caused Billy to lose his bet. Instead, he decides he likes the idea of Layla being his girlfriend, and the movie ends on this hopeful note.

What bothered me most of all is that Layla never has any thoughts or feelings of her own. She is kidnapped, then supposedly falls in love with Billy. She chases after him, asks him questions, learns about his life, but not one bit of information or past is revealed about Layla. Ricci is a wonderful actress, very Rubenesque and proud of it. She trusts herself completely, and relishes the chance to play off-the-wall characters, even without any depth. Ricci makes the character work on screen, even if the script doesn't give a hoot about her.

Billy, on the other hand, is very interesting. His best and only friend in the world is a developmentally-disabled kid named Goon (Kevin Corrigan, uncredited). He doesn't like to be touched. He spends the whole movie wearing ill-fitting clothes so that his butt crack shows when he sits down. One thing I couldn't figure out is that he knows his mother prefers the Buffalo Bills to him. Why would he then bet on them in the Super Bowl? You'd think he would resent the Bills, and in fact, football.

The movie left me confused and unsatisfied, with a lot of questions unanswered. It's as if Gallo directed the film as the character of Billy, not letting us in to certain parts of himself, and not understanding Layla at all. Gallo plays Billy like a low-rent Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, repeating lines again and again, "what did I say? -- what did I say? -- what did I say?" in his Buffalo accent. Yet Buffalo '66 is not an easy movie to dismiss. I suppose only time will tell if its remembered as a masterpiece or forgotten as junk.

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