26 June 2004 | rmax304823
The Honolulu Boys.
It's 1937 in caste-divided Hawaii and Madeleine Stowe is raped and beaten horribly in the woods by her husband's best friend, another Navy officer. Four Hawaiian kids find her nude on the road, drive her to a hospital, and are frightened off by personnel who assume they're the ones who did it. They're arrested by a Captain in the HPD, Kris Kristofferson, and brought to trial for rape, deadly assault, battery, mayhem, and speaking with an accent. Stowe's husband, a Lieutenant (jg) on a destroyer murders one of the kids in court. The others are beaten by a handful of rednecks on the destroyer's crew. Stowe finally breaks down on the stand and admits the kids didn't do it, much to the dismay of her Mom (Jane Alexander) who has been coaching her. Better to have four kanakas get it in the neck than one haole officer. Now, however, Stowe's husband is imprisoned. The guy knows nothing about his wife's having an affair and assumes the kids were guilty. Bring in the expensive Jewish lawyer from the states, the seventyish Jose Ferrer with the sexy wife one third his age.
It's a fascinating lesson in colonial social structure. It's a good deal like the South was at the time. It echoes the incident involving the Scottsboro Boys.
It would have been nice if the story had stuck closer to the central plot but it wanders all over the place, bumping crazily into subplots as it meanders along like a drunken sailor on Hotel Street. I expect we could have done without the affair between Kristofferson and Bergman's wife, Sean Young, which doesn't tell us anything we need to know about either character except that they are heterosexual.
The script doesn't help too much. Too many pious speeches. Kristofferson to Alexander: "Just because your grandfather came here on a ship and stole this land from the people you think you OWN it." Alexander is a fine actress and has already shown us through her icy disdain for ordinary people that she thinks she owns it. It's like having someone tell you, "I was so thirsty the next morning that I put away a lot of H2O -- that's water." We know, we know. Sometimes the script get so hallucinogenic that it's almost trippy. Sean Young is stretched out in the bed, sweaty and exhausted, and tells her lover: "You make me feel new again. It's as if you'd just minted me."
Man, though, is Sean Young a knockout. Whew. So is Madeleine Stowe with her skewed lips and coal-black irises. Kristofferson can't help being his old laid-back self and he's a little hard to believe when he explodes with rage. Authority figures from Texas don't blow their tops when they threaten you. They smile as they tell you how they're going to reach down inside your throat, grab your pyloric sphincter and pull your guts out through your mouth. Jose Ferrer gives a sympathetic performance as the sick but spunky and intelligent defense attorney who isn't about to give up his sexpot wife, even as he's passing out from hypoglycemia or something.
The four Hawaiian kids are okay. Their defense attorney is barely adequate. He's supposed to appear bumbling at first and he succeeds. But when he bears down on a witness he still seems tentative, as if unwilling to be rude. Two performances are standouts. Haunani Minn brings real spirit to the role of the Princess, and she's given some hefty insights. Some might call it overacting but what a breath of fresh air. Her performance -- the things she does to the English language, the melodies she uses to inform it -- reminds me of Bela Lugosi's Dracula. It's compelling ham. The other outstanding performance is given by the actor who plays the Chief of Police. No, not Charlie Chan. This is a white guy, Kristofferson's boss. He only has one or two scenes and they are clichés. Every responsible cop who is searching for justice has to have a boss telling him to lay off. This boss is unforgettable. I have seen more kinetic energy flow through the animatronic figures in Disneyland's Hall of Presidents. He stands there, chewing Kristofferson out, and he does not blink, his face is without expression, he does not wave his arms or move his hands or his body and he does not breath. Nothing moves but his mouth. When paint wants to dry it must watch HIM. He alone is almost worth sitting through the movie for. William Russ is Stowe's husband. I have seen far more convincing performances in a community college in St. George, Utah.
Flowers play an important part in this movie and they should. You can smell their scent at sea while the islands themselves are still over the horizon. The movie has blood as well as orchids. It also has a lot of sexual intrigue. (We'll let the derivation of the word "orchids" go, for now.) See this one. It's long and has some irrelevant patches but the case itself is interesting enough to keep you watching.