Johnny Handsome

There’s nothing like a nasty little thriller to reduce one’s faith in humanity. This riff on Dark Passage is fiercer than most. Johnny Handsome stars Mickey Rourke as John Sedley, a small-time New Orleans hood with a disfigured face who takes the fall for a robbery. A doctor (Bird‘s Forest Whitaker) decides that reconstructive surgery is the key to Sedley’s rehabilitation. Morgan Freeman, as the cynical detective, is convinced that Sedley will use his new face and identity to wreak vengeance on the psycho couple (Lance Henriksen and Ellen Barkin) who set him up.

It’s standard-issue pulp, and no one works these elements better than director Walter Hill. Unfortunately, he’s saddled with a script that starts out like gangbusters but then slogs into a predictable slam-bang ending. What saves the movie are the performances. Special mention goes to Barkin, for her unrelenting energy, and Freeman, for his wry elegance.

Johnny Handsome may not be a substantial film, but in an age when almost every movie is custom-designed to make you feel good, something as unforgivingly bleak as this seems almost radical. B+

Johnny Handsome
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