Larry Clark's Kids was as overrated as his Another Day In Paradise was underrated, but Bully is his worst film to date, a heavy handed attempt to recreate the events leading up to the shocking murder of a teenager by a vengeful group of friends living in South Florida.
Actually, the main idea is a good one and Bully starts out well, with a thoughtful yet disturbing portrait of how the homophobic Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl) constantly abuses his supposed best friend, Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro). For the first half-hour or so, the film makes incisive points about the dark side of male behavior and how class influences sex and power relations.
But the 'ripped from the headlines' plot unravels as Lisa (Rachel Miner), Marty's girlfriend, encourages Marty and his friends to kill Bobby for his many sins (including rape). The group of slackers even hire a 'hit man' (Leo Fitzpatrick) to help carry out the murder--in an alligator swamp. Later, after telling their parents and other friends about the crime, Lisa, Marty and their accomplices are arrested and put into jail.
Just as it all goes wrong for the youths, so goes it for the movie. Viewers are subjected to watching these self-indulgent teenagers badly plan out the murder while taking drugs and sexually stimulating themselves. The climactic murder scene is gratuitously violent, and the aftermath stresses an obvious 'Crime Does Not Pay' message.
For all the authenticity in Larry Clark's photorealist technique, reminiscent of Cassavetes, Bully feels very unreal and it's hard to figure out what is meant to be funny. But one just has to laugh at the endless scenes of the teens lying around, plotting the murder as if they are deciding on toppings for a pizza delivery. Clark makes these moments even sillier visually by photographing the half-naked bodies in the style of Calvin Klein underwear commercials. (As in Kids, Clark seems to favor the boys over the girls.) By this time in the film, meaning and significance are replaced by crotch shots and close-ups of dog noses.
Lead actors Renfro and Stahl redeem some of these later scenes with affecting portrayals. Stahl even makes the title character somewhat more sympathetic than his victims! But the supporting players struggle with making stupid and aimless characters look genuine.
Inadvertently, Larry Clark has come up with an art-house parody of Tim Hunter's River's Edge and an annoying assault on the senses. Too bad, though...Bully could have been so much more.