Vincent Gallo, gaunt and pop-eyed, with a gaze of sexy, hostile paranoia, has the look of a born sociopathor a born movie star (or both). In Buffalo 66 (Lions Gate), which he cowrote, directed, and stars in, Gallo plays a young man named Billy Brown who emerges from a New York state prison looking like the psychotic cousin of Bruce Springsteen. Pale and goateed, with greasy swept-back hair, Billy literally doesn’t have a pot to piss in. Searching for a bathroom, he’s like a jumpy, anxious mutt, and the camera pulls back to arching long shot to register every nuance of his humilation. There has been a lot of talk recently about how people no longer make films with the casual freedom they did in the ’70s. The talkers should go see Buffalo 66, a grunge fable of regeneration that thrives on that freedom.
Billy, as his name suggests, is still a kid, a stunted manchild coiled tight with impacted rage. Wandering into a tap-dance studio, he kidnaps the sweetly voluptuous, teenaged Layla (Christina Ricci) and forces her to pretend to be his wife, all to convince his parents, a pair of insensitive suburban louts (played with venomous gusto by Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston), that he is now a respectable person. For a while, Buffalo 66 becomes a mod synthesis of Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, and the Coen brothers, and Gallo appears to be flirting with stunt filmmaking. The movie, however, doesn’t just tweak these dysfunctional middle-class goons. It satirizes the very pain they’ve caused.
Taking off from the raw rhythms of early De Niro, Gallo plays Billy as a wounded animal discovering his own soul. He revels in the character’s antic, self-pitying bitterness, yet the film also gets at the way that Billy, beneath his bluster, is sensually terrified; his cool-jerk attitude is his real prison. Gallo, who has been an actor, a Calvin Klein model, and (most recently) a professional career bridge-burner, already has the audacity and flair of a major filmmaker. What he does in Buffalo 66 is to turn the tables on punk disaffection. He gets an inspired performance out of Ricci, who conveys a richer, dreamier insolence in one glance here than she does in all of The Opposite of Sex. A slow-mo catharsis set at a strip club makes mesmerizing use of King Crimson’s “Moonchild,” as Billy takes a plunge into his most self-annihilating fantasies. We have no idea if he’ll come out the other side, and neither does he. In its eerie way, that’s freedom. A