‘Kids’ (NR)By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 25, 1995
"Kids," a disturbingly voyeuristic look at adolescent promiscuity, is virtually child pornography disguised as a cautionary documentary. Set in a nihilistic never-never land, this smutty film follows the adventures of 16-year-old Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a pimply Peter Pan who specializes in deflowering "little baby girls." Except for pedophiles, it's hard to imagine who'll be drawn to this irresponsible Little Bo Peep show.
The real enfant terrible here is director Larry Clark, a photographer who previously explored kiddie sex in "Teenage Lust," a book featuring explicit photos of youngsters engaged in such kinky activities as bondage. Clearly this is an obsession.
The screenplay by Harmony Korine, a streetwise 19-year-old when he wrote it, follows a day in the lives of an ethnically diverse group of skateboarders and their molls. The picture opens on a couple of half-naked young lovers, locked in a deep, noisy kiss that seems to go on forever. Telly, also known as "the virgin surgeon," is about to perform another operation. Look Ma, no condom. The way Telly and his chums see it, safe sex is doing virgins.
While the couple are partly clothed, there's no doubt what they are doing or how little empathy Telly brings to this headboard-slamming seduction. And then afterward, the boy brags about his success to a buddy. The two friends then while away a few hours getting drunk, kicking cats and urinating on the streets. A little later, they do some drugs at an older guy's place, which leads to a foul and misogynistic discussion.
Still later in the day, they all get even more stoned and go to the park, where they beat a stranger to a pulp and leave him for dead. Later, there's a party at somebody's house, where everybody gets puking drunk and passes out in a heap.
"Kids" might scare parents silly, it's true. But most won't recognize their offspring among these youngsters, some of whom appear to be 9 or 10. None of them seems to have any viable connection to the world of adults. Aside from a bum with no legs, the only adult with a speaking part is Telly's mom, who's smoking a butt while breast-feeding her newborn. "Your mama's [breasts] are looking swell," opines Casper (Justin Pierce), Telly's confidant and constant companion. The name suits, for Casper lacks any real substance.
It's not an uncommon problem for the film's characters, who never develop. Even the pivotal Jennie (Chloe Sevigny), one of Telly's virgin conquests, fails to confront Telly upon learning that she is HIV-positive. The final act of the film is driven by her search for him, but when she finally finds him about to have sex with an even younger girl, she does nothing. Which leaves us with what?
Clark doesn't preach, which is fine, but he's as uncommunicative as Jennie. He doesn't seem to understand the characters, nor does he link their wasted lives to economic circumstances, social failures or accidents of birth. He doesn't tell us what he thinks, so other than revulsion, what can we feel?
"Kids," shot as cinema verite to further blur the line between reality and fiction, has been compared to "Rebel Without a Cause" and other classics of the juvenile delinquent genre. Its closest kin is "River's Edge," a 1987 film about a group of high school friends unable to choose between betraying a pal and concealing a murder. They had no moral compass. Clark's kids have neither compass nor compassion. They're just mannequins.
Kids is not rated, but no one under 18 will be admitted without an adult.
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