Old Westerns never die. They’re dug up and revived as street Westerns, flailing away with dead eyes and a fine drool of cliches. The latest example of this cinematic ghoulery is “True Blood” (selected theaters, MPAA-rated R), a grimly vacuous Lower East Side shoot-up, where bothers Ray and Donnie Trueblood--separated by fate for 10 years--find true love, brotherhood and blood, in no special order.
This is male bonding with a vengeance: Younger brother Donnie, deserted by Ray in youth, has had his heart stolen away by the insidious Spider (Billy Drago), a man with a scar. Ray, a returning Marine with battle decorations (Grenada?), is played by Jeff Fahey as if he were Clint Eastwood’s younger brother--which may explain why Clint cast him in “White Hunter, Black Heart.” Donnie, a punk with a problem, is played by Chad Lowe as if he were Rob Lowe’s younger brother; we can tell he has led a deprived childhood because he has never heard of French toast. Both of them treat the heroine (Sherilyn Fenn) as if she were a younger brother too; she owns the place where everybody digs bullets out of each other.
The movie is very high on fetishes and fetishistic behavior. Spider fingers his scar incessantly. Spider’s group, who’ve gone wild for black leather, hang out in warehouses, glowering in the feeble lamplight, admiring each other’s tattoos and drawing satanic symbols on the walls. There is a doomed junkie prowling around, and two cops, one black, one bald (James Tolkan, naturally), who also have fetishes. The bald one chews bubble gum and the black guy keeps straightening his tie. (The climax of Tolkan’s performance comes when he actually blows a bubble; later, his buddy tops him by popping it.)
People are continually getting shot in the belly and there’s another disrobed heroine (Fenn) trapped in her shower and closet by a knife-wielding maniac: the ubiquitous Spider, still fingering his scar. In the most pungent sequence, the brothers hide from the police in a loaded dumpster and escape in the garbage truck, throwing trash at their pursuers. But lest you believe that writer-director Frank Kerr is aiming rather low, he has included something for intellectuals. After fiery-eyed Fenn tries to brush him off as a lout, Ray Trueblood melts her heart, instantly, by revealing a fondness for William Butler Yeats--whose name he even pronounces properly.
Hey, you begin to think: What a classy movie! Who’s next? Lord Byron? W. H. Auden? Maybe Spider will stop fingering his scar and start mumbling about Aleister Crowley. Maybe James Tolkan will stop chewing gum and recite Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” But no such luck. Soon we’re back among the crashing cars, the fingered scars and the city of night: back in the dumpster, where men are men, brothers are brotherly, blood is true, tattoos are tough and movies are just lying there, all neatly bundled and waiting for the morning pickup.