Imagine a Deep South in which Faulkner, Capote, and Tennessee Williams were rewritten by Sheriff Andy of Mayberry, and you'll have some idea of the endurance test awaiting you in THE RIVER PIRATES. Sweeter than a barrel of Mint Juleps, this is a STAND BY ME, Y'ALL remembrance of things
past in which the insights are specious and the memories seem second-hand, borrowed from better scribes.
Based on the autobiographical Good Ole Boy: A Delta Childhood, the film follows the adventures of a rag-tag band of imps in Yazoo, Mississippi as they answer radio contest questions, frolic in the swimmin' hole, and check out movie matinees. The placid surface of Yazoo is rippled only by a
series of burglaries and, more importantly, by news of young men like Bobby Lee, who are off fighting the good fight in WWII. The Yazoo boys' ringleader is Willie (Ryan Francis), a dreamer destined to grow up to be a writer. When not exploring the woods, or driving deserted backroads with Bubba
(Devin Ratray) in his borrowed jalopy, Willie bonds with his grandpa (Richard Farnsworth) or teases his eccentric Aunt Sue (Maureen O'Sullivan).
The youngsters' biggest problem is avoiding the Gray City Boys, a white trash tribe who torment the fellas at the local bijou, deride their friendship with an African-American child, and challenge them to a foot race. Relying on the advice of the resident Huck Finn, Spit (Doug Emerson), the Good
Old Yazoo Boys dumbfound and defeat their persecutors. Afterwards, the children encounter a graver danger when Billy (Ben Wylie) is held captive in the town's haunted house by the criminal River Pirate clan. With the help of Rivers (Gennie James), their female recruit, the gang rescues Billy,
facilitates the crooks' capture by the police, and survives a storm to emerge as town heroes feted with a parade. As this magical summer crawls to a close, Willie feels the first stirrings of adolescence closing in on his childhood.
Tarnation! Don't the lazy, hazy days of our youth vanish quicker than a worm in a robin's nest? Sitting through THE RIVER PIRATES is akin to being force-fed gooey pecan pie while hearing the wit and wisdom of a bowdlerized Mark Twain read to you by the DAR. We're meant to relive our own
bittersweet pangs of growing up through the eyes of these tousled scamps, but the amateur cast inspires not nostalgia, but impatience and boredom. Anecdotal in nature, the screenplay doesn't do more than drift down the mighty Mississippi while the film's direction keeps getting stuck in the Delta
Beautifully photographed, THE RIVER PIRATES doesn't shape its cherished bucolic memories into drama; every incident is echoed in the aw-shucks narration. Even if the viewer can adapt to the drawlin' rhythms of this Southern-fried paean to male bonding, several missteps kill off sympathy. Will's
treatment of his Aunt Sue (meant to be perceived as adorable and condoned by grown-up characters in the film) is as perverse as anything the Hubbards did to Birdie in THE LITTLE FOXES. More destructive by far, however, is the climactic capture of the river pirates; it stretches credulity too far
and features some of the worst action staging and quick dissolves in recent memory. Recommended only for middle-aged men stuck in falsely sentimentalized pasts. (Profanity, violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: Imagine a Deep South in which Faulkner, Capote, and Tennessee Williams were rewritten by Sheriff Andy of Mayberry, and you'll have some idea of the endurance test awaiting you in THE RIVER PIRATES. Sweeter than a barrel of Mint Juleps, this is a STAND BY M… (more)