The boys in The Boys are a pair of Los Angeles screenwriters played by James Woods (The Hard Way) and John Lithgow (The World According to Garp, Terms of Endearment). They’ve churned out scripts for movies and TV shows for 20 years, but at the start of The Boys, Woods is diagnosed as having lung cancer; he’s given six months to live.
Woods and Lithgow spend the length of the movie examining their friendship and talking, talking, talking. ”I feel incomplete,” says Woods, ”like I’m a left glove waiting for a right glove; it’s my old problem — incompleteness. Death is gonna change that, I guess…” Although Woods has a girlfriend (Eve Gordon of Avalon) and Lithgow a wife (Into the Woods‘ Joanna Gleason), much of The Boys operates like a two-character play.
In serious moments, the dying man accuses his partner of being responsible for his disease because Woods, a health nut, has been inhaling Lithgow’s cigarette smoke all these years. In comic moments, Woods pulls out a gun and threatens to kill both Lithgow and himself — but the weapon turns out to be a water pistol. The boys also hop into a freshly dug grave just to see what it feels like; the sight of Woods and Lithgow giggling and rolling around in dirt six feet under is excruciating. The Boys is an exhausting, all-too-cleverly- crafted tragicomedy.
The TV movie was written by William Link, who for years wrote and produced scripts with his partner, Richard Levinson — Columbo and Mannix are among the shows they created. Levinson died in 1987; The Boys is clearly Link’s salute to his collaborator and friend. This noble, heartfelt gesture has yielded a sentimental story.