All swagger and bandana, pecs and borrowed cigarettes, Rusty (Matt Dillon) is a sometime gang member scratching out a thuggish adolescence in the shadow of his revered older brother, known only as The Motorcycle Boy (the mesmeric Mickey Rourke). Trapped in this suffocation milieu, Rusty aspires to lead his fellow wasters (including Chris Penn, Nicolas Cage and Lawrence Fishburne). Like his alcoholic pa (an extremely well cast Dennis Hopper), life is passing him by. Francis Ford Coppola's cinematic mastery brings it closer to a kind of breathless, testosterone-thick expressionism than the usual kitchen-sink ennui. The film's elegiac ending provides creepy real-life parallels aplenty. Coppola has yet to make a film the caliber of this or his early work; Dillon segued into playing stooges and sleazes; Rourke blew away a promising career and, by the looks of it, his face; and Chris Penn died of heart disease at the age of 40 with codeine, cocaine and marijuana in his blood. Life imitating art, maybe, but at least they achieved art in the first place.
Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodríguez makes the case for this quintessential American cult film and engages the audience in a post-screening q&a.