I really wanted to like this movie. Buffalo '66 stars one of my favorite actresses, Christina Ricci. She plays Layla, a young tap dancer in Buffalo, NY who is kidnapped by newly released ex-con Billy (Vincent Gallo). Billy spent five years in prison for a crime he did not commit and lied to his parents by telling them that he was working for the government instead of being sent to jail. He even gets his friend to mail packages and letters to his family to continue the charade.
When Billy is released, he wants to see his parents, but has told them that he is married, so Billy kidnaps Layla and forces her to "make him look good." Slowly, we learn about the sad life Billy has led. His parents are fanatical followers of the Buffalo Bills and the only game they ever missed was a championship game on December 26, 1966, the day Billy was born. Instead of celebrating the blessed day, his parents hold a grudge.
His mother (Anjelica Huston) has no recollection of her child's medical conditions, interests or life in general. His father (Ben Gazzara) barely speaks to him, and Billy stills holds a torch for neighborhood girl Wendy Balsam (Rosanna Arquette) who doesn't even remember him. The only happiness Billy has in life is bowling.
He turns to gambling and loses $10,000 when Buffalo Bills place-kicker Scott Wood misses a key field goal in the Super Bowl. Billy can't pay the debt to his bookie (Mickey Rourke), so he is forced to take the fall for a crime the bookie's friend committed. For ruining his life, Billy pledges to kill Scott Wood and begins to hatch his plan upon discharge from prison.
All in all, that sounds like a good movie. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from bad structure. The plot to kill Wood doesn't appear until half way through the movie. The audience would have benefited from a prologue in the opening scenes explaining Billy's gambling debt and why he went to jail. Then, the movie could have moved five years in the future to his release.
Billy lacks sympathy because we do not know about his supposed crime until late in the movie. The character comes off as a raging lunatic hell-bent on no particular goal. The audience is left to wonder why he wants to impress his family after the horrible way he has been treated. It takes too long for us to learn that he is saying good-bye for the final time.
The other major problem with the movie is the tone. It starts on a very somber and dramatic tone. The movie then becomes a comedy when Layla and Billy visit his parents. It then, once again, becomes a drama when we learn about Billy's plan. The movie even becomes a love story as Layla falls for this lunatic who never shows any emotional attachment to her until the movie's final scenes. The movie would have worked well as a farce or a serious drama, but it can't be both.
Buffalo '66 has some good elements. Writer/Director/Star Vincent Gallo performs well as Billy. He commendably handles comedy when he is supposed to be funny, and solidly portrays the desperation his character feels. Christina Ricci is very good, but also suffers from the movie's inability to be a comedy or a drama. Anjelica Huston is fabulous as the absent-minded Bills fanatic. She and Gazarra provide hearty comic performances.
Gallo also makes some very good choices as director and writer. We learn about Billy's past through flashback sequences that zoom out from the screen and superimpose over the action to give us the necessary background. There are some very good shots such as an early scene where Gallo does an extreme close-up of his character's eyes when he calls his mother to continue the lie about his job and family.
Another good choice is a scene where Billy's father sings for Layla. Gallo shines a spotlight on Gazarra as if he was singing in the concert theater he envisions in his own mind. The movie also has a gritty, edgy look and feel that is very much like Buffalo. If you have ever been there, you know what I mean.
Often, movies written by the star tend to lack sufficient development for other characters. However, Gallo creates several meaty parts for his ensemble.
I wish Gallo could go back and fix the movie's shortcomings, but there are no do-overs in the movie business. If you are a fan of Ricci or Gallo, you might enjoy the movie, but I can't recommend running out and renting it. I would suggest future WaffleMovies.com selection The Opposite of Sex for Ricci fans.
Buffalo '66: C-
Director: Vincent Gallo
Writers: Vincent Gallo and Alison Gasnall
Billy Burns . Vincent Gallo
Layla . Christina Ricci
Jan Burns ... Anjelica Huston
Jimmy Burns .. Ben Gazzara
The Bookie .Mickey Rourke
Wendy Balsam Rosanna Arquette
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