|Eddie (John Jenkins) and Billy (Chris Mulkey) in Patti Rocks|
A Minneapolis river barge hand, named Billy, convinces his estranged friend Eddie, an auto shop mechanic, to take a road trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin to talk Billy's mistress into having an abortion.
Did I mention this was a comedy? Set around Christmas? Actually, it's more of a dramatic comedy that is kind of like My Dinner with Andre only less intellectual, on wheels and with a pregnant woman. The 1988 film, Patti Rocks, directed by David Burton Morris is a sequel to a 1976 film called Loose Ends also directed by Morris with Victoria Wozniak. I'd never seen Loose Ends, but after viewing Patti Rocks over a dozen times, it's become a Holy Grail film.
Chris Mulkey, an all-time favorite character actor of mine, has one of the lead roles as Billy Regis. Billy is a married, working class guy with two kids who is a deckhand on a short-haul river barge in Minnesota. There's a real nice establishing shot of Billy riding the barge all the way to the dock with some cool blues playing on the soundtrack during the opening credits. We first meet Billy's pal Eddie, played in a wonderfully downbeat way by John Jenkins, as he has a minor melt-down at the auto shop where he works. The characters meet with each other soon after, partially mend fences, and head to La Crosse to meet with Billy's mistress, Patti, played by Karen Landry to "waltz her into an abortion".
The first half of the film is basically Billy and Eddie in a car talking about women and relationships as they make their way to Patti. The dialogue is frank, (the film was initially tagged with an 'X' by everyone's favorite movie-rating organization) realistic, funny and extremely politically incorrect . Billy refers to sex with women as "chopping beef" and relates his endless musings about ideal women, jobs and relationships to an alternately amused, disgusted and weary Eddie. When asked later, by Patti, why Eddie is Billy's friend, Eddie gives a chuckling reply "He is pretty entertaining." And despite the immature, adolescent attitude Billy possesses toward women and life in general, he is indeed entertaining and one can understand his attraction for both Eddie and Patti. Mulkey hits just the right notes with Billy in a great performance and never makes him annoying, man-boyish (Sandler-ish) or brazenly stupid. He says and believes some of the same dumb things that a lot of males do (I have a friend like Billy who also swears Dillinger's schlong is kept in a special room in the Smithsonian) but Mulkey never takes it too far and he sustains Billy as a believable character throughout the movie. Jenkins' Eddie Jenks character is a lost, disillusioned divorcee who is getting too old for Billy's shenanigans, but can't help but be amused, attracted and somewhat manipulated by him. Their friendship is quite believable particularly in the good-natured way they bust each other's chops or bounce back from heated arguments to become buddies again. The hat-tossing scene near the end of the film is classic male re-bonding stuff. In addition to the dialogue scenes, Billy and Eddie go through a few minor tribulations before reaching La Crosse. The funniest one involves Billy's run-in with 'The Steambeast' wherein he shows his true self (in more ways than one) when faced with his female equivalent.
The latter half of the movie plays out in Patti's apartment. One of the cleverest components of the screenplay, in my opinion, is that the only impression of Patti up to this point has been given through Billy's eyes. It therefore shouldn't come as a surprise (but it nevertheless does) that Patti is quite different than what was expected. I don't want to talk about Patti's character as half the enjoyment of the film is finally meeting her and finding out what kind of person she is. I do want to say Landry does a solid job with Patti and the character is satisfyingly believable. Eddie is understandably uncomfortable being the third wheel in this situation, and becomes even more involved as Billy pushes him to intercede on his behalf. What ultimately happens provides a nice climax to the film without everything being tied up too neatly.
Thematically speaking, the notion that men are pretty much clueless when it comes to women is not the most original message, but it's presented in this film in a very straightforward and often humorous manner by two very different male perspectives. I think the two male leads were particularly convincing in their respective roles and I'd really like to see their back story from Loose Ends. All three actors received writing credits, so I'm assuming that a lot of the dialogue was improvised to give it a more natural feel and it works quite well. The cinematography was surprisingly good considering the setting (sorry Minneapolis, but even you have to admit parts of your town are butt-ugly). The original music by Doug Maynard fits nicely, especially the opening track. Overall, a very good, under-seen film with three solid performances and engaging characters that I enjoy revisiting.