Biloxi Blues (1988)

In 1943, Eugene Morris Jerome (Matthew Broderick), the kid from 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' who is an obvious stand-in for playwright Neil Simon, is inducted into the army and shipped out of Brooklyn to the Deep South for some basic training before being shipped overseas to face a 68% casualty rate in the Pacific Theatre of War. Soon, that prospect doesn't seem so bad since it (will also mean getting away from Sergeant Merwin Toomey (Christopher Walken), a soft-spoken psychopath with hates screw-ups and picks Eugene as the platoon's second favourite scapegoat, after nervous intellectual Epstein (Corey Parker). In addition to his military education, Eugene hopes that his spell in Biloxi will enable him to realise his two greatest fantasies, to lose his virginity and to fall in love.

Like most Neil Simon play-to-film transfers, 'Biloxi Blues' is essentially facile. We get a collection of varied comic characters cooped up in one barracks (Simon, you might remember, started out writing for 'Sergeant Bilko'), a few neat little dramas to keep the thing moving, some mildly offensive romantic notions about whores with hearts and nice catholic girls, a touch of serious self-examination in the way Eugene's obsessive journal-writing leads to embarassment and misery and a nonstop barrage of smart lines, putdowns and gag situations. What this has got over, for instance 'Brighton Beach Memoirs', is that thanks to Simon, a good cast and self-effacing director Mike Nichols it is actually very funny. Broderick's wiseass character always has the right comeback line, and Walken's gloating drill instructor villain is a genuine comic monster. The movie plays like a comic rerun of the first hour of 'Full Metal Jacket', but loses out on much of its potential impact because the Kubrick movie got to the subject matter first and was much more vicious about it.

First Published In: City Limits no.362 (8 September 1988) p.30

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