Eric Roberts Videos — A look at 'Heaven's Prisoners,' 'The Glass Cage,' 'Public Enemies,' and 'American Strays'

By Ira Robbins
Updated November 15, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

American Strays

  • Movie

Eric Roberts Videos

Unlike his kid sister Julia, who makes a point of varying her roles, Eric Roberts has played a creep for most of his movie career. With his cushiony mouth, amphibious eyes, and amorphous drawl, the 40-year-old Mississippian carries with him a free-floating cloud of sex and violence that hints at unhinged danger. Ever since setting his course as a murderous jerk in 1983’s Star 80 and as a freaky loser in 1984’s The Pope of Greenwich Village, this cool alligator has specialized in using very little effort to make the most of a bad impression.

While he occasionally stars in credible films like the 1996 drama It’s My Party, Roberts is primarily a regular on late-night cable, where he guarantees sleazy thrills in such lurid pictures as Sensation and Love, Cheat, and Steal. During the past three years, he’s spread his sinister mojo in nearly 20 films, 4 of which have recently arrived on video: Heaven’s Prisoners, The Glass Cage, Public Enemies, and American Strays.

Nearly as long as a Louisiana summer, Heaven’s Prisoners ambles through a garden-variety bog of vengeance and reprisals for more than two hours. It’s kept afloat by Phil Joanou’s somber, stylish direction and a superior cast that includes Kelly Lynch and Mary Stuart Masterson. Alec Baldwin plays Dave Robicheaux, a former New Orleans policeman with a rocky history who unwittingly dredges up a mess of trouble when he rescues a little girl from a downed plane. As the intrigue and injuries pile up, Dave pins the blame on local drug baron Bubba Rocque, played by Roberts (bizarrely coiffed in cornrows), who slithers into the film’s swampy ambiance like a well-fed cottonmouth.

Roberts isn’t the only ingredient The Glass Cage shares with Heaven’s Prisoners: Both pack guns, strippers, and gangsters tangling over incomprehensible business conflicts in New Orleans bars — as well as bluesy soundtracks. But the conservative hairstyle he sports as corrupt Detective Montrachet isn’t the only difference, either. Made with a fraction of the budget and ambition of Joanou’s film, this generic CIA crime movie wastes Roberts in a bland role that just isn’t evil enough to get his juices flowing.

The same holds for his involvement in Public Enemies, a broadly told, low-rent biopic of Depression-era bank robber Ma Barker and her sons. Wading into a bloody bad-accent contest between lightweights like former MTV Sports stud Dan Cortese (as the fabled G-man Melvin Purvis) and Alyssa Milano (as a tart), hospital guard Arthur Dunlop (Roberts) joins the gang, beds the most-wanted Ma (Theresa Russell, chewing nails with loopy gusto in an awkward proto-feminist part), and then gets whacked, all within 20 minutes.

Ajob’s a job, but it’s still hard to imagine why Roberts (or, for that matter, Jennifer Tilly, John Savage, or Carol Kane) would take part in American Strays, in which a bunch of random characters descend on a desert diner to no evident purpose. The only possible motive for this inane Tarantino fever dream by writer-director Michael Covert is to effectively sully Luke Perry’s squeaky-clean 90210 image in a disgusting torrent of physical abuse and bodily fluids. (In that regard alone, it’s a rousing success.) But while the young heartthrob takes his masochistic knocks, it’s Roberts — cast against type as a sniveling family man — who barely escapes with his dignity. Of this Roberts foursome, Heaven is the place to go. Heaven’s Prisoners: B The Glass Cage: C Public Enemies: C+ American Strays: F

Episode Recaps

American Strays

  • Movie
  • R
  • 97 minutes