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    Not so fast, sonny

    Nicolas Cage's directing debut, a supposedly serious gigolo story called "Sonny," goes terribly wrong through overacting, miscasting and other silliness.


    Set in 1981, "Sonny" tells the story of 26-year-old Sonny Phillips (James Franco), a former gigolo who returns home to New Orleans after a brief stint in the army. Home is a Bourbon Street brothel run by Jewel (Brenda Blethyn), Sonny's mother and former boss. The aging madam is thrilled that her star moneymaker is back, and she is eager to put him to work again. Jewel introduces Sonny to her best girl, Carol (Mena Suvari), and suggests that the duo could make a lot of money if they team up. Although the two have an instant attraction, Sonny has no desire to return to his old life. He intends to head to Texas and get a job at a bookstore owned by the father of his army buddy Jesse (Scott Caan).

    Directed by: Nicolas Cage.
    Written by: John Carlen.
    Cast: James Franco, Brenda Blethyn, Mena Suvari, Scott Caan, Harry Dean Stanton, Brenda Vaccaro, Seymour Cassel, Maria Hatzis, Josie Davis, Nicolas Cage..
    Jewel is angered by her son's decision because her whole future depends on him. Sonny's only support comes from Jewel's crooked beau, Henry (Harry Dean Stanton), who urges the young man to explore the outside world but cautions him that even "regular" folks encounter their share of problems. Sure enough, Sonny is greeted with bad news immediately upon his arrival in Texas: Jesse's father not only lost the store but also died. Jobless and broke, Sonny decides to stay with Jesse and, later that evening, accompanies him on a disastrous double date with two blonde sisters. In an unguarded post-coital moment, Sonny tells his date about his past and then, feeling judged, becomes defensive and violent. This leads to a nude brawl that sends him out of Jesse's house and back to Bourbon Street.

    Characters don't just get upset, they get over-the-top hysterical. Sex scenes are graphic and include cheesy dialogue and lots of over-50 flesh (prepare yourself for a topless Brenda Vaccaro).  

    Sonny re-enters the business, servicing middle-aged women and occasionally partnering with Carol for couples sessions. Sonny and Carol gradually develop feelings for each other, and Carol finds that she wants out of the industry. Just as Carol has her revelation, Sonny concludes that prostitution is a life he can never escape, and now he is forced to choose between the only life he knows and the only woman he ever really loved.

    Sonny marks Nicolas Cage's directorial debut, and unfortunately, it shows. While Cage attempts to provide a serious examination of the conflicts faced by those in the world's oldest profession, the end result is an almost campy romp through the French Quarter. Characters don't just get upset, they get over-the-top hysterical. Sex scenes are graphic and include cheesy dialogue and lots of over-50 flesh (prepare yourself for a topless Brenda Vaccaro). A fight scene between three nude characters utilizes Austin Powers-esque prop trickery to blatantly cover "naughty bits." And perhaps most bizarre of all, Cage makes a cameo as Acid Yellow, a fey, coke-snorting pimp with a limp who looks not unlike Austin Powers and is accompanied by a hulking transvestite and a hot-pink poodle.

    Suvari, a standout in "American Beauty," has little to do but act flirtatious and whine about wanting a normal life. British actress Blethyn, so wonderful in "Secrets & Lies," seems miscast with her odd New Orleans accent that is both difficult to understand and at times reminiscent of Popeye (especially when she talks about her "goils"). It is most unfortunate that the always-brilliant Franco, who earned a Golden Globe Award as the lead in TNT's "James Dean," is stuck in what amounts to be little more than a late-night Cinemax flick with an extra heaping tablespoon of melodrama added in. A car crash ended Dean's career just as he was achieving superstar status; let's hope that this vehicle is less damaging to Franco.

    DECEMBER 27, 2002

    Reader comments on Sonny:

  • Maria Hatzis   from Dylan, Feb 2, 2003
  • Re: Maria Hatzis   from Robert, Feb 10, 2003
  • Sonny   from Renee, Aug 26, 2003
  • Sonny   from R, Aug 13, 2005
  • sonny   from df, Mar 31, 2006

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