It kills to look so good.
Due to a disfigured face, John (Mickey Rourke) has spent most of his life either being ridiculed, or never understood. The only thing that he really knows to do in life is set up heists and have them to according to plan. And for his latest one, everything works out perfectly, with all of the money being taken, and very little casualties, until, well, he gets double-crossed and left to be arrested by the cops. John is soon taken into custody where a doctor who specializes in facial-reconstruction surgery (Forest Whitaker) wants to test something out on John and see, if at all possible, he can get him to look like a normal person. It works, but of course, John himself has a lot to get used to, with people not staring at him any longer. And then, sooner than later, John’s out of jail, back on the streets, and ready to be an everyday, law abiding citizen. But before he does any of that, he wants to get revenge on the two criminals, Sunny Boyd (Ellen Barkin) and Rafe Garrett (Lance Henriksen), who screwed him over in the first place.
Johnny Handsome is an odd movie because, as is the case with most of Hill’s movies, it seems like it wants to be two different one simultaneously. There’s one aspect that wants to be this goofy, high-concept heist-thriller with guns, action, violence, drugs, booze, and cursing, but then there’s this other, that wants to be a thoughtful, quiet and small character-study about this guy Johnny and how he learns to get along with life after finding a new lease on it. By no means has Hill ever been considered the most perfect director for heart-warming tales of humanity, so obviously, the later story doesn’t quite work out for him.
But at least the former does.
And yes, that’s exactly where Johnny Handsome works, in the grit and the action of the tale. As is usually the case, Hill knows how to craft a solid action-sequence, whether it’s a heist scene, or a brawl between two characters, and it just goes to show you what the guy can do, when the material is there for him to play around with. Sure, has he had better action movies on his plate than this one here? Sure, but it also helps that Hill gets a chance to revel in the sleeze that this tale sometimes promises getting to the nitty gritty of. Of course, it doesn’t quite go as far as it should with that, but it gets close enough to make it feel like a worthwhile effort, on the part of Hill’s.
It’s just that, once again, the movie also wants to be something of a stern, serious character-study that, at the center, does have something interesting to say about Johnny himself. But of course, it’s trapped in this wild and rather wacky B-movie that knows what it is, when it’s doing its thing, but when it’s getting away from that, it feels weird. It’s as if Hill knew that there was some true dramatic promise with this premise and did want to develop it a tad bit more, but also didn’t want to scare too many others away from how melodramatic he was able and willing to get.
It’s an odd mix-and-match Hill has to work with here and honestly, in the hands of a much better director, it probably would have worked. Not to say that Hill isn’t a good director, but you can tell his specialties do heavily lie on action, not drama.
But hey, at least the cast is pretty great.
Mickey Rourke, in what would probably be one of the last performances for awhile where he actually seemed to give a crap, does a solid job as Johnny, even though, like I’ve said before, he may be in a tad bit of a different movie. He’s doing his usual cool, calm and collected brooding thing we’ve seen from him before, which may seem a tad dull, but makes sense in the general sense of the story and just who this character is. It would have been nice to see him play this character in a less messier movie, but hey, at least Rourke’s good here.
The real fun from the cast comes from the supporting side. Lance Henriksen is evil and detestable as one of the baddies who rip-off Johnny; Morgan Freeman plays a cop who is on Johnny’s ass from the get-go and seems to push him way too far at times; Elizabeth McGovern is very much playing it serious like Rourke, but is interesting enough to watch; Forest Whitaker plays his doctor character a little creepy, which works; and Ellen Barkin, well, steals the show as Sunny Boyd. As Boyd, Barkin gets to let loose, showing that she can be beautiful, sexy, and a little bit dangerous, never allowing you to fully trust her, but also kind of love her, too. She clearly came ready to play and it’s why her performance is the one worth remembering when all is said and done.
Consensus: Even despite the mess it eventually becomes, Johnny Handsome still gets by on its thrills and excitement given by its talented ensemble.
6 / 10