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Bully Reviews

Sun, sand, surf, sex, S&M, murder... Photographer-turned-director Larry Clark's third feature is really a follow-up to his first, the controversial KIDS, only this time the shocking story of bewilderingly amoral adolescence is all too true. In 1993, a group of seven Ft. Lauderdale teenagers were convicted of luring 20-year-old Bobby Kent out onto the swampy edge of the Everglades where they brutally beat and stabbed him to death. The reason? He was a bully, and not one of the schoolyard variety. According to testimony, Bobby Kent was a full-blown psychopath, a sexual sadist who physically and psychologically abused his friends and who could name hustling, rape and amateur pornography among his hobbies. What emerged from the whole shocking story, chronicled down to the last unsavory detail by Jim Schutze in his true crime opus Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge, was a shocking vision of suburban, middle-class America as a breeding ground for a generation of teenagers for whom life and death lack any real significance. Unpleasant stuff, and Clark pounces on the material with his usual relish and a discomfiting combination of moralizing and prurience. At the center of Clark's clique of killers is Bobby's best "friend" Marty (Brad Renfro), a dimwitted high-school dropout whose only discernible skills are surfing and remembering some of the words to Emimem's rhymes. Like any partner trapped in an abusive relationship, Marty puts up with Bobby (Nick Stahl) and his violence (which, the film strongly suggests, is rooted in repressed homosexual desire), forgiving him even after Bobby punches him in the face, forces him to dance for dollars at a local gay club and rapes his new girlfriend, Lisa (Rachel Miner). Marty, meanwhile, is no angel; he just passes the bruises on to Lisa. Realizing that her life with Marty would be infinitely better without Bobby in it, Lisa hits on a simple plan: Get her friends together and kill the bastard. What follows is surely meant to be harrowing, but Clark never quite strikes the balance between the abject horror the crime requires and the black humor of the circumstances surrounding it — a balance Tim Hunter managed to great effect in the similarly themed but far superior RIVER'S EDGE. Clark's great talent as a photographer lies in his ability to find a kind of beauty within even the most soiled lives, but here his search for that beauty is undone by his salaciousness; his leering treatment of teenage flesh is likely to call forth even the biggest libertine's inner prude.