The Boost (Blu-ray)
(Olive Films, 3.22.2016)
Based on the James Woods tradition of playing cocky characters full of arrogance and bluster, it’s easy to get the wrong idea about The Boost’s Lenny Brown. At the outset, he seems like yet another con artist scoundrel, but we soon realize that this character is something far more unusual for Woods: an earnest naïf. With rare vulnerability, Woods expresses openhearted optimism about the future to his equally innocent wife, Linda (Sean Young). As Lenny starts to experience professional success, there’s something almost unbearably touching and guileless about his reaction: “Every time I sell something, it means someone believes in me.”
The film’s initial appeal is derived almost entirely from the intriguing ways that Lenny deviates from the standard James Woods persona. Of course, this can only last so long. Around halfway through The Boost, Lenny’s newfound prosperity falls apart when (a) the bubble of his shady business bursts and (b) a friend offers him drugs at a party. What follows is essentially the Reefer Madness of cocaine movies.
The Boost reunites Woods with Harold Becker, the director who helped him make the transition to movies with the 1979 true crime gem, The Onion Field. Their second film aims for the harrowing weight of that first collaboration, but falls well short. This is partly the fault of Darryl Ponicsan -- the screenwriter of Becker’s Vision Quest and the novelist behind The Last Detail -- whose adaptation of the novel by Ben Stein (yes, that Ben Stein) is plagued by unconvincing, surface-level dialogue. Unfortunately, this drains the film of the nuanced credibility it so desperately needs.
So why bother bringing The Boost to your attention at all? In spite of its undeniable credibility issues, this proves to be a consistently engrossing guilty pleasure that thrives on lurid melodrama and unintentional humour. Woods doesn’t always hit the bull’s eye, but it’s fascinating to see the sensitivity that’s so often missing from his performances, interviews, etc. Becker also manages to bring some weight and authority to several sequences (the transfer on this disc effectively conveys his confidently austere visual style), elevating The Boost -- if also reminding us what’s missing elsewhere. This isn’t one of the great downward spiral drug movies, but in both form and content, it’s a lively, distinctive portrait of 1988. -- Jonathan Doyle