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With: Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Elizabeth McGovern, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Lance Henriksen, Scott Wilson, David Schramm, Yvonne Bryceland, Peter Jason, J.W. Smith, Jeffrey Meek, Allan Graf, Ed Zang, John P. Fertitta
Written by: Ken Friedman, based on a novel by John Godey
Directed by: Walter Hill
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 94
Date: 09/12/1989

Johnny Handsome (1989)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Mug Shots

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The underrated, old-fashioned B-movie director Walter Hill (The Warriors) made this excellent action drama with an amazing cast, but aside from Siskel & Ebert, it didn't get much love. Maybe Mickey Rourke's newfound cult appeal will earn it another look.

Rourke stars as the title character, a hideously disfigured crook who teams up with his best friend Mikey (Scott Wilson) and two volatile lowlifes, Rafe (Lance Henriksen) and Sunny (Ellen Barkin), to knock over a coin shop. The robbery goes bad; Rafe shoots and kills Mikey and leaves Johnny wounded.

In prison, a doctor (Forest Whitaker) gives him plastic surgery in the hopes of reforming him. Johnny even gets a work furlough and begins seeing a pretty accountant (Elizabeth McGovern). But a New Orleans police Lieutenant (Morgan Freeman) knows what know one else will admit: that Johnny will be looking for revenge.

It's essentially a modern film noir, but one that springs naturally from within the genre, rather than something that exists outside, paying tribute. Like many other B-movie makers before him, Hill keeps the action sequences fast and clear, but undeniably violent.

But in-between, he gets good, strong performances from his entire cast, and builds up touching emotional connections between characters; I especially liked Freeman, who had just come off a career-launching Oscar nomination for Street Smart (1987), and -- oddly enough -- appeared in Driving Miss Daisy later the same year.

In 2009, Lionsgate re-issued Johnny Handsome on DVD, but they literally took the old 2002 Artisan DVD and placed a new cardboard sleeve over it. The old Artisan release was pretty lousy: it was panned-and-scanned with a murky, low-contrast transfer. It looked like a VHS tape. Thankfully Lionsgate righted this wrong in 2010 with an excellent new Blu-Ray, transferred in hi-def and widescreen, with a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a trailer and a still gallery.

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