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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
johns (1996)
3 Stars

Directed by Scott Silver
Cast: David Arquette, Lukas Haas, Keith David, Arliss Howard, Elliott Gould, Christopher Gartin, Terrence Dashon Howard, Nicky Katt, Wilson Cruz, Alanna Ubach, Richard Kind, John C. McGinley.
1996 – 96 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, blood, profanity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 21, 1998.

"johns," an independent film from Scott Silver, making his directing debut, is a gritty, bleak drama that seems accurate about its decidedly downbeat subject matter. It is written with intelligence and realism, and yet, when it ended, I felt that the film didn't particularly add up to much, even though there is no doubt that it is brimming with talent.

The film, which also could have been called, "One Day in the Life of a Male Hustler," is about two very good friends living on the streets of Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard. John (David Arquette), an experienced male prostitute, starts his day, which happens to be Christmas Eve, as well as the eve of his 21st birthday, off badly. He wakes up to find his "lucky sneakers," missing from his feet, which also happened to hold all of his money that he was planning to spend on a ritzy hotel for the night. His friend, who is more of an amateur, is Donner (Lukas Haas), whom David often teaches about the right way to hustle, which is to first ask if the client is a police officer. "If they aren't, then it's legal," John matter-of-factly states. Throughout the day, we follow these two characters from client-to-client, some of which are very shady characters, and from meal-to-meal, and they struggle to make a life out of their rather desolate existence. "johns," is a film that relies heavily on symbolism to bring some of its points across. Not only are the clients referred to as, "johns," but almost all of the people John meets is named John, from a mystical homeless man (Keith David), who always seems to show up at just the right time to help people in their time of need, to a peculiar, frightening man (Arliss Howard) that picks John up during the unpredictable, and yet, inevitable, climax. Another bit of symbolism is that not only is it Christmas, but John was born on that holiday, and when his sneakers are stolen at the beginning, it is as if his luck vanishes.

Certainly, the most striking element of "johns," is David Arquette's unforgettable performance. Ever since the original, "Scream," came out, Arquette has been on a roll, delivering one strong role after another, most notably in 1997's "Dream With the Fishes." With his character of John, we are shown an insecure person who is hustling day after day, but knows deep down that it isn't what he was supposed to make of his life. Also of note is Arliss Howard, as the previously mentioned concluding customer of John's. Howard manages to be so creepy that he leaves a lasting impression.

Where "johns," misses the mark is in the brief subplot about John's fast-talking girlfriend (Alanna Ubach), which doesn't feel finished, and especially in the climactic moments. As simply a study of male prostitution, then it is fine, but after the end credits started to roll, it just didn't feel like it had much of a point, except that this underground business that isn't very well known, is meaningless and leads nowhere. I don't exactly know what I expected, but during the last scene, I think something else should have happened with Donner to add more of a finality to the conclusion.

The flaws of the ending can easily be overlooked, however, because, "johns," is a memorable, naturalistic drama, superior to the similar 1997 indie, "Star Maps," which ran into trouble by feeling overstuffed with different story threads. The characters in, "johns," gained my sympathy, I liked them, and I found myself hoping that they would somehow find their way out of the abyss that they had buried themselves in. Although far from perfect, "johns," is an edgy and powerful motion picture.

© 1998 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman