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‘Basketball Diaries’

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 21, 1995


Steve Kalvert
Leonardo DiCaprio;
Mark Wahlberg;
Patrick McGaw;
James Madio;
Lorraine Bracco;
Michael Imperioli;
Juliette Lewis
violence, graphic drug use, partial nudity, vile language and copious bodily secretions

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I STAYED till the (bitter) end of "The Basketball Diaries," but only because I had to. A movie for masochists, an unrelentingly ugly "Just Say No" propaganda movie, it might have been bankrolled by Nancy Reagan.

Just wait till the Catholic church gets a load of this one: The movie's grotesque parade of corrupted Catholic schoolboys, sadistic priests and sexually predatory basketball coaches just might throw them off the scent of the currently controversial "Priest."

"Basketball Diaries" is based on the autobiographical writings of Jim Carroll, who vividly chronicled his disintegration from New York City high school basketball star to Bowery heroin addict and street hustler and the road back from ruin to acclaim as a writer and rocker.

Bringing Carroll's '60s it-happened-to-me saga into the '90s, director Scott Kalvert, who cut his teeth on Marky Mark videos, bites off raw chunks of "Rebel Without a Cause," "West Side Story," "Saturday Night Fever" and other alienated-teen flicks, and splices them together with luridly "realistic," Tarantinoesque touches—lots of messy violence and drug use. But there's little momentum, no real story line, just Carroll's tediously inevitable descent from low to lowest. It becomes hard to care what happens to this lost boy.

Hard-eyed and gaunt, Leonardo DiCaprio works hard, as always, at embodying fallen angel Carroll, and he creates one undeniably impressive achievement: With his big sweating, shaking, snot-spouting cold turkey withdrawal scene, he comes close to topping Uma Thurman's "Pulp Fiction" overdose scene for gross-out potential.

The only redeeming point of this misery wallow would be the eventual redemption of its antihero, and the movie makes much of Carroll's soulfulness and poetic artistry. But DiCaprio's voice-over betrays Carroll's potent writing; the excerpts sound like self-conscious, sub-Beat babble.

In an unbilled appearance, Juliette Lewis makes her ugliest on-screen appearance yet (and that's saying a lot), as Diane, a bleary heroin-addicted whore. And Carroll himself shows up in a te^te-a-te^te with DiCaprio as a junkie soliloquizing about smack preparation and Catholic ritual. Enter at your own risk.

THE BASKETBALL DIARIES (R) — Contains violence, graphic drug use, partial nudity, vile language and copious bodily secretions.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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