×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Strays

Though amiable and intermittently engaging, "Strays," Vin Diesel's feature directorial debut, is a derivative film, a "hanging-out" yarn that charts the familiar territory of such American movies as "Mean Streets," "Saturday Night Fever" and "Diner." Marred by Diesel's narcissistic central performance and amateurish thesping from the rest of the cast, pic may still warrant a limited theatrical release in major cities as a showcase for a filmmaker who directs with more dexterity than he writes or acts.

With:
Rick - Vin Diesel
Fred - Joey Dedio
Rodney - T.K. Kirkland
Mike - Mike Epps
Tony - E. Valentino Morales
Heather - Suzanne Lanza
Keith - Darnell Williams

Though amiable and intermittently engaging, “Strays,” Vin Diesel’s feature directorial debut, is a derivative film, a “hanging-out” yarn that charts the familiar territory of such American movies as “Mean Streets,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Diner.” Marred by Diesel’s narcissistic central performance and amateurish thesping from the rest of the cast, pic may still warrant a limited theatrical release in major cities as a showcase for a filmmaker who directs with more dexterity than he writes or acts.

“Strays” explores male camaraderie and the price one pays for belonging to a closely knit group of losers. The leader of a wild bunch of youngsters, Rick (Diesel) is a bright, handsome man who can’t tear himself from his buddies, a group of harmless comrades who lack focus and ambition. Rick serves as big brother to the clueless Fred (Joey Dedio) and a source of drugs for his other friends Rodney (T.K. Kirkland), Mike (Mike Epps) and Tony (F. Valentino Morales).

Rick’s friends are using his Lower East Side apartment for their sexual escapades with hookers and strippers. In the opening, rather charming sequence, one by one they arrive at Rick’s flat, only to find that the one bed is already occupied. Always on the lookout for quick sex and small-time adventures, they’re basically young men afraid to grow up and face the harsh reality outside Rick’s shelter.

In contrast, tired of one-night stands and impersonal sex, Rick struggles to become a responsible man, but he’s consistently dragged down by his chums. Things change when he meets Heather (Suzanne Lanza), a gentle, beautiful woman who apparently comes from a different social milieu.

Switching gears from the cinema verite style that characterizes the first part of the picture, second half turns into a most conventional romance, reminiscent of the central love story in “Saturday Night Fever”: sporadic dates, passionate sex, misunderstandings and reconciliations. In his scenes with Heather, Rick reveals his tormented identity, torn between his macho bravado and street-smart sensibility and a more hidden kindness and generosity of spirit. The narrative’s few novel dimensions concern racial prejudice, as Rick’s clique is multicultural, going beyond the Italian-American contingency that prevails in earlier American movies.

Regrettably, like many other first-time efforts, with all the exterior roughness and edge of “Strays,” deep inside the movie lies a rather conventional , earnest and soft story about misunderstood men who are products of broken families (hence the title) and the harsh circumstances of a working-class life.

Helmer Diesel shows a keen eye for the mobile camera and style of pic’s early sequences is spontaneous and realistic as befits the material. For a while, the approach succeeds in disguising the routine narrative. Nonetheless, once Rick and Heather’s relationship takes center stage, dwelling on their problems with their respective families (she has a “secret” child; he’s alienated from his mom), “Strays” assumes a sentimental mode, containing quite a few moralistic speeches. Rick’s big scene, in which he tries once and for all to break away from his pals, is particularly poorly scripted and executed.

It’s hard to gauge Diesel’s acting talents, for his performance here consists of a series of attitudes and postures, flaunting his impressive basso voice and muscled body in tight outfits. As Heather, Lanza looks and moves like a model, which indeed is her previous career track. Rest of the ensemble also lacks distinction.

As he demonstrated in his striking short “Multi-Facial,” which was shown in Cannes, Diesel is a potentially gifted filmmaker, one particularly adroit in establishing an authentic sense of time and place. In evoking a credible mood for “Strays,” Diesel is greatly assisted by his lenser, Andrew Dunn, who fills the screen with exciting compositions that reflect the changing psychological dynamics of Rick’s circle of friends.

Strays

Production: A Vin Diesel production. Produced by Diesel, George Zakk, John Sale. Executive producers, Robert M. Bigalow, Bobby Panaro, Jean Claude Nedelec. Directed, written by Vin Diesel.

Crew: Camera (color), Andrew Dunn; music supervisor, Pilar McCurry; production design, Zeljka Pavlinovic; sound (Dolby), Andrew Edelman; line producer, Stephen Schmidt; assistant director, Julie Noll. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 23, 1997. Running time: 105 MIN.

With: Rick - Vin Diesel
Fred - Joey Dedio
Rodney - T.K. Kirkland
Mike - Mike Epps
Tony - E. Valentino Morales
Heather - Suzanne Lanza
Keith - Darnell Williams

More Film

  • Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at DuArt

    Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at New York's DuArt Film Labs, Dies at 88

    Robert Smith, a longtime executive with New York’s DuArt Film Labs, died Jan. 11 in Montvale, N.J. He was 88. Smith spent some 62 years with DuArt, the film processing and post-production facility founded in 1922 in the penthouse of an automobile garage in Midtown. Smith rose to president of DuArt before retiring in 2015. [...]

  • Bird Box

    Los Angeles On-Location Feature Filming Surges 12.2% in 2018

    On-location feature filming in Greater Los Angeles expanded impressively in 2018, gaining 12.2% to 4,377 shooting days, according to FilmL.A. Production activity for feature films rose 15.5% to 1,078 shooting days during the fourth quarter, with 146 days coming from projects receiving California tax credits — including Netflix’s “Bird Box,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a [...]

  • 'Ghostbusters': First Look at Jason Reitman's

    Watch the First Teaser for Jason Reitman's 'Ghostbusters' Sequel

    If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, it’s time to watch a teaser for Jason Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” forthcoming film. Sony Pictures released a first look at the upcoming movie, a sequel to the 1984 classic. The footage shows a glimpse of the memorable station wagon Ecto-1. The studio announced on Tuesday that the wheels are [...]

  • Anne Hathaway

    Anne Hathaway to Star in Robert Zemeckis' 'The Witches' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anne Hathaway has closed a deal to star as the Grand High Witch in Robert Zemeckis and Warner Bros.’ “The Witches” adaptation. Variety first reported that Hathaway was holding the offer for both that and “Sesame Street,” and at the time, scheduling for both films were holding up dealmaking. With those issues settled, Hathaway is [...]

  • Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K.,

    Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K. With Tougher Restrictions on Sexual Content

    The body that oversees film ratings in the U.K. is tightening its age restrictions and giving movies with certain types of sexual content older age ratings. The British Board of Film Classification said the changes were in response to public demand after a consultation that took in the views of over 10,000 people in the [...]

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    'Hunchback of Notre Dame' Live-Action Reboot in the Works at Disney

    Disney is in early development on a live-action “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” movie, based on Disney’s animated film and Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “Notre-Dame de Paris.” Playwright David Henry Hwang is attached to write the script, with Mandeville Films and Josh Gad set to produce. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz will pen the music. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content