Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Biloxi Blues

“Dark Phoenix” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues,” the second part of his autobiographical trilogy of plays about growing up in Brooklyn, takes his avatar Eugene Morris Jerome, played by Matthew Broderick in this movie version, out of his Brighton Beach neighborhood. It does not, however, take the Brooklyn out of the boy.

Unlike the first installment, “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” or the third installment, “Broadway Bound,” “Biloxi Blues” takes place, mostly, in Biloxi, Mississippi, during the second World War. He and his fellow recruits from the northeast, including Manhattan Jewish intellectual Arnold B. Epstein (Corey Parker, who would go on to play the part of Eugene in the TV movie of “Broadway Bound”), and obnoxious Bridgeport, CT, native Joseph Wykowski (Matt Mulhern), are transported via train to Biloxi for Army basic training under the guidance of Sergeant Toomey (Christopher Walken). The weather is not to Eugene’s liking, as he astutely observes, “This is Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.”

Marching around in the swamp with scorching heat and oppressive humidity is not what city boys are good at doing, so it’s not too long before Eugene and Epstein both find themselves on Toomey’s bad side. Worse, the trouble they get into impacts the platoon, so bigger, tougher men like Wykowski and Selridge (Markus Flanagan) wind up paying for Eugene and Epstein’s mistakes.

The difficulty in adjusting in this first act is where the majority of the humor comes into play in “Biloxi Blues.” Walken gives one of his best performances, walking the line between crazy and funny, and the fish out of water aspects of Eugene and Epstein trying to adjust to Army life lend themselves to laughter. The entire first act of this movie is one great line or funny moment after the other, whether the men are marching or in the mess hall.

The pace slows down a bit for the second act, which finds Eugene getting some leave and going into town. He uses the opportunity to lose his virginity to local prostitute Rowena (Park Overall). She’s as sweet and gentle as can be, and we relate to Eugene’s insecurity and awkwardness. Once again, he is a fish out of water—but in a much different way. The scene is funny, but also in a different way. The sharp, biting humor of the first act is replaced by fumbling and nervous excitement. Tonally speaking, it’s a nice respite from the caustic jabs of the boot camp, and comes at just the right time.

While at a dance, Eugene meets a young woman named Daisy (Penelope Ann Miller). He has some cute banter with her, but nothing too funny. It’s also a relationship that they both know will not go anywhere and it doesn’t impact him too much in the short or long term, so it is ultimately pointless. If I have one criticism to level at “Biloxi Blues,” it’s that the Daisy romance is unnecessary and makes the middle part of the movie drag. At least if their romance was somehow funny it might be worthwhile, but it’s not. It just kind of sits there as the movie—along with the characters—spins its wheels and doesn’t go anywhere.

Luckily things pick up again once we‘re back on base for one rainy night and a “piss drunk” Sergeant Toomey has a meltdown. This is more dramatic than funny, but the suspense is palpable and the conclusion is satisfying. “Biloxi Blues” may have a strong first act before shifting gears with varying degrees of success, but it resolves well and after 31 years is still my favorite entry in Simon’s trilogy. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Dark Phoenix

When a movie begins with a flashback that involves a car driving down an isolated road with a troubled child in the back of it, it’s a foregone conclusion as to what’s going to happen. It’s a trope for horror movies, and between the opening scenes of “Shazam!” and “Dark Phoenix,” it looks like it may become one for superhero movies too. At least what followed in “Shazam!” was competent storytelling with characters I liked. The same cannot be said for “Dark Phoenix,” which has a muddled plot and character motivations that are all over the place. It also unwisely decided to take a massive dump all over Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (James McAvoy). Not cool.

I’m not saying that the professor needs to be some kind of pure and unassailable personification of perfection. He can and should have flaws to overcome. But to turn other characters, like Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, whose misery while making these movies clearly shows) and Hank McCoy /Beast (Nicholas Hoult), into preachy, disrespectful, holier than thou lecturers who rail on him for what they perceive as errors in judgment is uncalled for and unwelcome. Come to think of it, this whole movie is unwelcome and unworthy of the time it takes to write about it—or watch. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Candy Corn,” about an outcast brought back from the dead on Halloween Eve to seek revenge, starring Courtney Gains, Tony Todd, and P.J. Soles.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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