Mickey Rourke’s face somehow doesn’t look right without scars, bruises, wrinkles, and other ravages of age and abuse. In a world of pretty boys, he exudes the retro grit of John Garfield, though there’s plenty of Marlon Brando in his DNA as well. 1984’s The Pope Of Greenwich Village gave Rourke an opportunity to make a ’30s-style Warner Brothers crime drama; 1988’s simpatico Homeboy, which just received a tardy DVD release, let him shoot an equally anachronistic ’30s-style boxing movie.
Rourke, who wrote the script under his “Eddie Cook” pseudonym, stars as a washed-up fighter who, outside the ring, dresses disconcertingly like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. Too many long nights, too much whiskey, and too many punches to the face have taken a terrible toll on Rourke’s fragile health, but he’s ill-equipped to do anything other than take and dish out punishment. Christopher Walken steals the film as a sharp-dressed no-goodnik who runs petty scams, looks after fighters, and takes an interest in Rourke that’s anything but altruistic.
Homeboy has been dumped onto DVD to exploit its uncanny resemblance to The Wrestler, another moody character study about a half-dead fighter eking out a meager living on the fringes, but the comparison does Homeboy no favors. Rourke gives his punch-drunk pugilist the body language of a wounded animal and a core of stoic nobility. He’s a warrior staring down death and obsolescence; even two decades ago, Rourke carried the defeated air of a man whose best days were behind him.
But Homeboy ambles sideways, taking its sweet time to get nowhere in particular before introducing a plot development from The Big Book Of Hoary Crime-Drama Clichés, where Rourke must choose between a big, potentially fatal boxing match and a big, potentially fatal caper alongside Walken. Walken nearly redeems the whole enterprise with his oddball energy and punchy delivery of colorful lines like “Chinese silk sheets the colors of the rainbow,” but his presence (and climactic donning of a fake beard so he can fit in with Orthodox Jews) is all that keeps the film from flatlining. The glacially paced Homeboy isn’t so much sleepy as comatose.