Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions
The KO Picture Show
Presents. . .
Homeboy (1988)

Mickey Rourke decides to 'ugly up' by channeling his inner Carl Spackler.


Honestly, Mickey Rourke should be the patron saint of this website. Given his life story, his chops as an actor, his undeniable links to boxing, and his risk-taking lifestyle both in front of and off camera, he's just about all a movie/boxing fan can ask for. I was absolutely thrilled with his performance in
The Wrestler, and I'm glad his career is experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now in 2010.

For those young'ins amongst you that don't know Rourke beyond his turn as beat-up underdog Randy "The Ram", his life prior to that is quite a tale. With all due respect, some might find it hard to believe that Rourke started acting in the early 80's as "a face". His early career was dotted with memorable supporting roles in films like
Diner, Body Heat, and The Pope of Greenwich Village, where he became noticed for his good looks and acting ability. Eventually this lead to leading man roles like 9 1/2 Weeks, which established him as a bonafide sex symbol, and more experimental roles like Angel Heart and Barfly. But by the late 80's the opportunities to stretch his acting legs soon started to dry up and he found he was only being offered parts that played up his looks and sex symbol status. Unsatisfied with the way his acting career was going, he made the decision that, on its face, seemed about as far-out and inexplicable as any previously made by a successful Hollywood actor: he went into professional boxing.

I say "on its face" because, in reality, Rourke was no stranger to the sport of boxing. During his childhood in Florida, Rourke took up boxing at the age 12. He had a long and relatively successful career as an amateur (with a record of 20-6 with 17 KO's, according to Wikipedia). He was eventually advised to take a break after suffering a concussion at a Florida Golden Gloves tournament in 1971, and so ended his boxing career. His
amateur boxing career, that is.

In 1991 Rourke abandoned his successful acting career to begin training, and on May 23rd of that year, a few months shy of his 39th birthday, he took on fellow Light Heavyweight Steve Powell (0-4), winning a 4 round unanimous decision. Rourke continued to fight and act on-and-off for the next 3 years,
compiling a record of 6-0-2 with 4 KO's (it should be noted, against "seasoned" journeymen [some might be classified as downright "jerkied"] and handpicked opponents of the "under .500" variety). His last fight was in September of '94 and it ended in a draw with Sean Gibbons, who at 11-3-2 was, by far, his most accomplished opponent.

Rourke has since admitted that the diversion into boxing wasn't about getting a title shot, but more about testing himself. And, if you're like me (and so many other boxing fans) that sounds like a perfectly reasonable explanation. There isn't a fan of the sweet science out there that hasn't either dreamed of a return to glory days (hell, can you name more than a handful of boxers who've walked away from the sport with all their marbles and/or money and didn't stay past their due?) or, if they've never boxed before, dreamed of a chance to strap on some gloves and go a few rounds. But, again, that's only a reasonable explanation to us. The rest of rational world finds the idea, if not psychotic, at least a bit silly.

And, as it turns out, the rational majority may have a point, as the time away from the Hollywood scene hurt Rourke's career. Not to mention the facial trauma he suffered during his boxing career (and the subsequent botched surgical repairs to said face) pretty much put an end to any "pretty boy" parts. We now know that Mickey Rourke was and is more than a pretty face, but at that time in the mid-90's, things looked pretty grim. Most would have put their money on the boxing career being a HUGE mistake and a career killer.

So the question is, could he have done things differently? I'm sure Mickey would say that he wouldn't have done it any other way, but it seems that the younger Rourke may have asked himself the same question, and the content and timing of the 1988 movie
Homeboy certainly supports that theory.

This Rourke penned effort follows the story of a simple man named Johnny Walker. He's a cowboy. He's a fighter. He's a drinker. And a lover. We know this because in the opening scene he puts on his cowboy hat and enormous belt buckle as he gets out of bed from an anonymous conquest and heads to the bus station to the next town that's holding a fight card. He then gets off said bus and heads directly to the nearest honkey-tonk and gets himself good and wasted, despite having a fight in just a few hours. Honestly, we get little more than this opening scene as a description of what kind of man we'll be dealing with here for the next 100 minutes. Walker is a man of few words. Whether this is by choice or due to the ravages of the ring is not entirely clear, although, we do get cinematic clues to Johnny's physical state. Occasional POV shots show the muddled and muffled world that the punch drunk boxer exists in.

Eventually other characters manage to make their way into Johnny's fuzzy view. First is a bombastic, pseudo-charismatic, low-level crook named Wesley Pendergrass played by Christopher Walken. Walken seems to be doing some sort of proto-Frank White from
King of New York here, gesticulating and howling a lot, even for him. He takes a liking to Johnny and wants to involve him in his money-making schemes. And then we get the ubiquitous love interest. I honestly have no idea why Debra Feuer's Ruby would even give Johnny Walker the time of day, let alone strike up some sort of chaste, expository-filled romance with the palooka. I imagine the fact that Feuer and Rourke were married at the time had something to do with it though.

So things lurch on from there. I get the feeling that the dialogue between Johnny, Wesley, and Ruby was supposed to be deep, but it had that "We're ACTING!" quality of delivery to it. Instead of conveying the idea that these people are damaged goods (literally in the case of Johnny), it misses the mark and comes off as dialogue that is meant to give each player his or her monologue "moment", which I imagine is a fairly common desire when an actor is writing. But it makes for a boring view. If I had to guess, I'd say this was an attempt at making an sports-themed, art film. The imagery both in and out of the ring would support this (not to mention the twangy, largely directionless soundtrack composed by Eric Clapton).

But the hardest part to swallow was Mr. Johnny Walker himself. What we have here is a textbook case of someone trying to have their cake and eat it too. In an attempt to shed the "pretty boy" image, Rourke affects a facial contortion for the Walker character that immediately brought to mind Bill Murray in Caddyshack. So instead of hearing the Southern drawl that he was trying out, all I could hear was
"So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier." And on top of the emoting, he also wanted to try and look as cool, tough, and "lived in" as he could. But his efforts to reconcile his thespian urges with his desire to be a tough-guy boxer fall short, and in the end he just looks kind of goofy. And goofy is the antithesis of art and toughness.

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The Fightin'! - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6
Given Rourke's honest-to-goodness boxing background, the fighting scenes should have been, if not spectacular, at least above average for your typical Hollywood production. And for the first 3/4 of its running time,
Homeboy's fighting and training sequences are just what a boxing fan craves. First, Rourke looks like a fighter. That facial tic aside, he's got a legitimate Light Heavyweight build (the weight class that he eventually made his pro debut in) and even in 1988, he looked like he was ready to step into the ring. He also went out and got legit fighters for the opponents, the most recognizable being former middleweight, super middleweight, and light heavyweight champion, Iran "The Blade" Barkley. The fight choreography was a bit muddled at points, but there were definite instances of real give-and-take between Rourke and his opponents, something rarely seen in boxing movies. And all artsyness aside, further credit has to be given to Rourke for trying to portray the real-life damage that can be done in the ring. Blurred POV shots and muffled sound might have been a cinematic choice, but it's also a reality for many fighters. So, add all that up and it seems like we've got a top-notch fightin' film, right? Hell, we even get a nice little training montage towards the end.

But then "ART" had to go and rear its ugly head, during the "Big Fight Finale" no less! Now, I'm aware of the literal and figurative statements that can be presented by a "Big Fight Finale". It's one of the reasons I love boxing movies so much. Few sports can generate that level of excitement combined with the ACTUAL struggle of man. Please excuse the hyperbole, but it's the physical representation of drama. But, as in all artistic endeavors, there is such a thing as over doing it. Instead of using the intrinsically dramatic nature of boxing to make his point, Rourke decided to actually have CRASHING THUNDER AND POURING RAIN during his outdoor "Big Fight Finale". The crushing of bones and pouring of blood wasn't enough! He actually had to have the heavens (literally) open up on him. Even in the name of art, this is inexcusable. Sorry.


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Overall Rating - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4
I can honestly see what Rourke was trying to do here. He had come to a crossroads, had become disenchanted with his acting career, and wanted to do something more. So he took a shot at combining a past love and a (at the time) current passion, boxing and acting. The problem is, some loves are not meant to share the same bed, so to speak. He was going for gritty and tough, combined with real emotion and drama, but he came up short. The obvious parallel can be drawn to his more recent and critically-lauded effort in
The Wrestler. Besides the wisdom that comes with advancing years, Rourke has admitted that he never really had any interest in the sport of wrestling prior to his work in the film. And maybe that distance from the material is what made it so effective. More effective than this earlier attempt, perhaps because it wasn't so close to his heart. Obviously the movie didn't satisfy Rourke either, and so I applaud the man for following his heart into the actual ring.


Rob Tillisch
9/24/10
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Starring: Mickey Rourke,
Christopher Walken,
Debra Feuer
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