Ratko: The Dictator's Son
Ratko, the new freshman foreign exchange student at Our University, is the son
of a dictator who rules his country with an autocratic cult of personality and
a particularly deplorable human rights record. His country is at the junction
of Asia and Europe, so the most comparable real-life dictator would have been
Niyazov of Turkmenestan.
As soon as Ratko arrives, he throws around enough money to take over the
entire dormitory, which he then remodels into a palace. He relocates all the
other students to a luxury hotel, but he keeps his assigned roommate within
the palace/dorm, because college is all about getting to know a roommate from
a very different background. As Ratko settles in, he meets the girl of his
dreams, but she turns out to be a political activist who will have nothing to
do with him when she finds out who his father is. He's not clear why she would
respond in this manner because he has been sheltered from any knowledge of his
father's atrocities. He resolves to find out the truth. Will he reject his
father? Will he get the girl? How will his father react?
In general, the plot of Ratko is predictable and boring and the comic ideas
are lowbrow and derivative. You've seen the best ideas before, in better
movies. This National Lampoon production is a cross between Rodney
Dangerfield's Back to School and Borat, and it freely borrows ideas from those
two films, as well as many others. For example, two girls accompany a video
game competition with an insult war based on "You're so skanky that ..."
You've seen this scene already, with only minor variations, in The
40-Year-Old-Virgin, where Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd play a video game and
exchange "You know how I know you're gay?" taunts.
Of course, a copycat comedy may still bring a few laughs, and Ratko does have
its moments. In fact, I thought I was going to love the film after the first
two minutes, which consist of a newsreel documentary about Ratko's homeland. (Film
clip here. Only brief anonymous nudity, but an entertaining clip.) The film was
directed by Savage Steve Holland, who wrote and directed two of my favorite
comedies more than 20 years ago. He also created the bizarrely entertaining
Eek! The Cat! series in the early 90s. I've been wondering why he's had such a
long dry spell since then, so I'm glad to see him back in the game, even if
this movie has to be considered merely a minor league rehab start, since he
was basically just a director-for-hire on this project and didn't write the script. According
to the IMDb, he may get a major league start soon enough. He is listed as one
of the writers on the upcoming Howard Stern remake of Porky's. That should
be right up Holland's alley, since Porky's provided the template for 1980s
coming-of-age comedies, and Holland mastered that genre.
You have to love the cast of this movie. The lead role is played by Efren
Ramirez, "Pedro" from Napoleon Dynamite. Some other familiar D-list faces make
appearances. Ratko's sidekick is played by the official second banana from all 1980s
coming-of-age films, Curtis "Booger" Armstrong, who also played John Cusack's
sidekick in Savage Steve Holland's Better Off Dead. The part of Ratko's
father, the mad dictator, is played by Adam "Batman" West, whose ability with
foreign accents is not likely to take much work away from Meryl Streep. The
dean of Our University is played by Dennis "Principal Belding" Haskins.
Now come on. How can you pass up on a film with Pedro, Batman, Booger and
Belding? If that isn't enough inducement, Kato Kaelin has a cameo role, and
there's a whole passel of nekkid boobies on display:
Connolly, Elisa King, and Angela Fong
Ildiko Ferenczi and
Leslie Zagers and
O'Leary, Luscious Lopez, and Rucca Paige
Catch the deluxe
version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles,
Boys Don't Cry
Chloe Sevigny film
Hillary Swank film
The success or
failure of movies made from real-life stories always lies in the
execution. You know that the premise and the payoff must be
interesting enough to inspire someone to make a movie about it,
right? So the execution is what distinguishes the soporific real-life
stories like Silkwood, which plays out like a PBS show, from the taut
and tense real-life stories like The Insider, which plays out
like an international espionage flick.
"Boys Don't Cry" has
two potentially fatal flaws to overcome:
The dramatic conflict
itself is not inherently unique or particularly interesting. If the
filmmakers had made the exact same movie without telling people that
it was a true story, it would have been yet another made-for-TV movie.
The backdrop is boring.
It's like Silkwood in that when it isn't engaged in the main premise,
it's just down home folks doin' some down home stuff: drinkin' beer
and tippin' cows and actin' like illiterate assholes.
Am I trashing the
movie? Not at all. I'm just setting up the next statement, which is
that it overcomes those obstacles beautifully, much like The Insider.
Just about every minute of this film is charged with tension. Will the
impersonation be discovered by someone? Will the white trash cons
erupt into violence? How the hell will Teena/Brandon make love to a
woman without her discovering the secret? Will the cops catch their
various evil doings? Will the cops unearth the criminal activities in
Teena's past? Because it is effectively directed and performed to
maintain the tension, and because the performers carry off the mood
exactly as it should be, this is an excellent piece of filmmaking.
Did I like it? Not
one bit. I did think it was a tense and powerful and gritty movie, but
I'll never watch it again. I admired its artistry and I was impressed
by the cast, but what is there to like? Teena didn't want to overcome
his/her sexual identity crisis in order to save the environment or
create an inexpensive eternal light bulb. Nope. She only wanted to
prove that she could be a lyin', stealin', fightin'-fer-no-reason,
drunk drivin', longneck drinkin' and burpin', work-evadin', chain-smokin',
shopliftin', buyin'-booze-fer-minors, no-account trailer trash
scumbag. So if Teena had been accepted, she/he would have settled into
a life of robbin' Circle K's. Do we need more of those guys? Lookin'
out my windows, we seem to have plenty of 'em here in Texas, iff'n you
Yankees have an acute shortage.
Whether she ended up
a lesbian, or a transsexual, or a transvestite, or something
completely unique, the bottom line is that she wasn't really a very good
person. Even when she suffers, you have a hard time opening up your
heart to touch her pain, because she always could have made the choice
to integrate into life as a decent man instead of hanging out with
criminal sociopaths. Jeez, Brandon. Dress like a guy, get an
education, make a few bucks, get the operation, change your name
legally. Bingo, you're a man, and nobody is the wiser about your past.
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee