TELLLING LIES IN AMERICA

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"Telling Lies in America" is the story of the son of a Hungarian immigrant who finally connects in 1960 to the culture around him through his love of rock 'n' roll. Joe Eszterhas's screenplay reflects his own adolescence as an outsider in Cleveland, the city he calls the "mistake by the lake." The sights and sounds from his memory bank make his script a very rich piece of work. This is quite a wonderful movie.

Dr. Istvan Jonas (Maximilian Schell) has brought his son Karchy (Brad Renfro) from Hungary to America, where both are now awaiting naturalization as American citizens. Istvan works in a Cleveland mill and spends what he earns to send Karchy to a Roman Catholic school for boys, where Karchy feels very much alone among a bunch of rich, verbal bullies. After school, Karchy works with his new friend Diney (Calista Flockhart) in a poultry store, where their friendship edges warily toward first love.

To break out of his limitations, Karchy needs a mentor, who appears in the person of Billy Magic (Kevin Bacon), a disc jockey returning to Cleveland in the shadow of some undefined scandal. With a superb swagger and an expression that is part smile, part sneer, Kevin Bacon lifts an already good movie from gentle to sublime.

Bacon's Billy Magic is a slick talker, a loser pumping himself up to perform as the deejay at Station WHK. Billy hires Karchy to be his all-round assistant, pays him well, and lets him use his spiffy red Cadillac convertible. Karchy is on his way.

The unlikely friendship of Billy and Karchy is a wonderful sight. Each goes along with the charade of the other, Billy holding back a lot of truth from Karchy, Karchy refusing always to admit his lack of experience to Billy. Whenever the mentor asks, "Have you done this before?" Karchy's standard white lie is "Sure, lotsa times." Small-time Billy becomes the linchpin for Karchy's growth.

Joe Eszterhas's memories are neatly combined here with understated direction by Guy Ferland and terrific, low-key acting by a grand cast. You can literally feel Billy's sleaze, Karchy's innocence, and Diney's honor. Calista Flockhart brings a genuine, real-life quality to Diney, who has no intention of getting involved with anyone who isn't heading straight for an honorable life.

Brad Renfro, who was 14 when he played the 17-year-old Karchy, is entirely credible as an innocent in a 60s world that did not yet know gangs or drugs. Maximilian Schell adds poignancy as the European father who can't understand the culture that is claiming his son. All of these good actors are pulled together and lifted high by the irresistible work of Kevin Bacon as the oily Billy Magic. As if that weren't enough, Mr. Bacon has written "Medium Rare," the core song on the soundtrack. This is a low-budget movie, shot in 24 days, that will walk right into your heart.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Banner Pictures
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h41m


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