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‘River’s Edge’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 29, 1987

"River's Edge" is a five-star Twinkie feast for delinquents. There's murder, dirty talk, misogyny, immorality and, why, even a little gallows humor. Dennis Hopper plays a paranoid murderer who's constantly clutching a blow-up sex doll -- and he's the good guy.

This brat-pack film noir is loosely based on the true story of Anthony Jacques Broussard, a Milpitas, California, high schooler who murdered girlfriend Marcy Conrad and bragged about it to buddies. No one reported the death to the police for at least a day.

While director Tim Hunter and screenwriter Neal Jimenez are admirably unblinking in their psychological portraits of hardened youth, they undermine their impact with inappropriate campiness. The cops and press bark about feelings and moral ramifications, but the filmmakers seem to have included such social commentary halfheartedly. What "River" relishes most is creating the baddest SOBs in the cinematic valley, and make previous wayward kids -- from the "Lord of the Flies" gang to Damien of "The Omen" -- look like the Brady Bunch. Is there such a thing as a Golden Cleaver award?

Samson (Daniel Roebuck) has this problem: A stiff lying naked and purple on the edge of a river (women can really get to him). He tells his schoolfriends about it as if it were a flat tire. He feels no guilt, no panic. His friends (this guy has friends?) come to ogle the body and they get sorta bummed.

Samson's buddy Layne (Crispin Glover) organizes a cover-up. He persuades Samson to hide with Feck (Hopper), a paranoid but (and we're talking comparatively) compassionate man living in seclusion ever since he blew his girlfriend's brains out during those old biking days. Bummer. The gang (even Jamie's best girlfriends) follows Layne's orders with nary a protest. It takes Keanu Reeves as moral Matt (again we're talking comparatively) to do the blabbing. For this he is rewarded with abuse from the police, and the sexual favors of Jamie's friend Clarissa. Oops, there is a moral: He who rats, scores.

Glover (who shone as Michael J. Fox's father in "Back to the Future") is riveting as Layne -- a speed-popping wacko more wired than AT&T And Joshua Miller, who plays Tim, the most malevolent child this side of the Styx, is alarmingly evil as the kid who wants to be part of the older gang, even if it means killing his own brother.

But "River" stabs all-too-wildly in the dark.

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