Buffalo '66
directed by Vincent Gallo
(Lion Gate Films, 1998)

When last I saw Vincent Gallo, he was headed hell-bent-for-leather for Truth or Consequences, N.M., with a get-rich-quick scheme that got nobody rich and a lot of people dead.

Now he's back, with a new character, a new plan -- one of his own devising -- and a new city, Buffalo, N.Y.

Buffalo '66 is Gallo's first hat trick and more: he not only directed and starred in it, but wrote the story, the script and the musical score.

The storyline is simple, though it takes time to reveal itself.

Billy Brown (Gallo) is just out of jail and so eager to prove to his parents that he's a big success in life that he kidnaps a woman who looks like his high school crush and coerces her to pretend to be his wife during a brief visit to his parents' house in -- where else -- Buffalo, N.Y.

There are only two problems with his plan: Billy's parents care so little about him that he couldn't impress them if he got elected president; and the woman, Layla (Christina Ricci), turns in such a good performance that it drives Billy to distraction, which, we've already seen, isn't hard to do.

In his distracted state, Billy works up a second plan, the assassination of former Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Wood (Bob Wahl), whose blown field goal cost the Bills an NFL championship and Billy the love of his mother.

It's a difficult concept to come to grips with, and it probably wouldn't work at all if Gallo hadn't stocked his film with so many good performers, particularly Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston as Billy's parents, and devoted so much screen time to developing character, especially Billy's.

The very first scene sets the film's uneven tone: Billy walks through the jail's discharge gate on a snowy December day, lies down on the bus bench outside the prison and falls asleep. He wakes up and runs back to the gate pleading to use the men's room, but the guard refuses to let him in. Poor Billy. Even in jail he's not wanted.

Later Billy takes Layla bowling to revel in his one area of undeniable accomplishment, but he's undone by a pin-setting machine that jams and Layla's own luck at the lanes. Poor Billy. The world just won't work for him.

But the world, at least the world around Buffalo, does work for Gallo, a Buffalo native who treats his hometown with the mixed sense of resentment and respect often shown by those who've moved on and made good. His camera bleeds it of much of its color, but captures its drawing power. Billy and Gallo can escape Buffalo, but they can't leave it behind.

Buffalo '66 is an independently made film and it carries some "indie" trademarks, particularly a heavy reliance on mid-'60s art-film techniques: multiple overlapping shots; intentional jump cuts in the editing; and the stop-motion shooting near the film's end, which leaves the victim suspended in space with the blood literally hanging onto his head.

But with its emphasis on character, its surprising twists and turns and its unrelenting portrait of a failed, football-obsessed family, Buffalo '66 offers film fans something they rarely get anywhere else. And plenty of it.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

Buy Buffalo '66 from Amazon.com.