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Bully (February 8/02)

Perhaps Larry Clark wasn't the best choice to helm Bully.

Clark is the guy responsible for Kids and Another Day in Paradise, the former an exceedingly tedious and plotless diatribe on the state of teenagers today. Unfortunately, though he had an opportunity to create a new image for himself with Bully, he's essentially turned it into a sequel to Kids - with aimless teens rampantly pursuing sexual affairs, trying every drug under the sun, and just not doing much in general.

As Bully opens, we see two friends (Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl) - one of whom is clearly the dominant one in the relationship (Stahl). Renfro is seemingly powerless to assert himself around Stahl, which makes him the subject of relentless taunting and even physical abuse. Things start to change, though, when Renfro begins dating a new girl (played by Rachel Miner). She sees the abuse that Stahl doles out, and hatches a plan to eliminate the problem (read: murderdeathkill). Along with several friends and even a local hitman (well played by Clark's Kids protégé Leo Fitzpatrick), the couple devises a supposedly foolproof method of killing Stahl. Of course, since this is based on a true story, the execution is eventually discovered…

The first 45 minutes or so of Bully is so similar to Kids, with the teens doing absolutely nothing except having sex and getting high, that it almost negates the effectiveness of the rest of the film. Clearly Clark is intrigued by the behavior of today's teens (not to mention his obsession with their naked bodies), and for those who found Kids fascinating, this'll likely seem just as effective. But for the rest of us, Clark's reticence to introduce any sort of a plot until midway through is just obnoxious.

But what prevents Bully from sinking to Kids-ian levels of perversion (not that there's anything wrong with perversion; but perversion without a purpose is just stupid) are the performances. While Renfro and Miner are surprisingly effective as a doofus and a slut, respectively, it's Stahl that walks away with every scene he's in. As the titular Bully, Stahl simmers with pent-up rage and his devil-may-care attitude is evident throughout. Contrast this character with his performance in In The Bedroom as a sweet and sensitive kid, and it's easy enough to see that Stahl has some real potential.

Bully's not for the squeamish or overly-sensitive - there's enough nudity and violence here to send such types into fits - but for those who can stomach it, the film does offer an intriguing look at a wholly original sub-culture. Though the first half is undeniably exploitative and over-the-top, the second half easily makes up for it in terms of compelling storytelling and stellar acting (mark my words, Stahl's going to be the next big thing).

out of