McConaughey’s sleazeball role is saving grace of ‘White Boy Rick’


“White Boy Rick” has a lot going for it. Matthew McConaughey gives a fine performance as a 1980s Detroit gun dealer who is also the father of a rather precocious 14-year-old drug dealer and FBI informant. If he can just sell enough guns with silencers, he’s sure he’ll have enough money to bet it all on what he thinks is the future — video stores.

That video store dream is a metaphor, of course, for failed get-rich-quick schemes and the misreading of long-term trends. Hindsight might be 20/20, but McConaughey’s Richard “Rick” Wershe Sr. is a loser, no matter what the context. And this has become a brilliant niche for the former beefcake Austin actor who eventually became an Oscar winner.

McConaughey, under the direction of Yann Demange, also has a great supporting cast, including Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie as his parents and Bel Powley as a drug-addicted daughter.

But McConaughey’s son, Rick Jr., is the main character in “White Boy Rick,” and he’s also the main problem with the movie. Richie Merritt, a first-time actor, auditioned for the role, and it’s obvious that McConaughey and the director think he has something to offer.

Regrettably, a number of moviegoers will thing they’re wrong. He doesn’t have the remotest resemblance to a movie star, and he doesn’t have the acting chops for playing White Boy Rick.

The plot of this sordid tale will probably be known by Detroit natives, since Rick Jr. made big headlines back in the day. He grew up in a seedy neighborhood and committed petty crimes, and since his father was a gun dealer, he had ready access to weapons. His dad even instructed him to sell semiautomatic rifles equipped with silencers to the neighborhood gang leaders.

The FBI, with aims to tie Detroit’s mayor to gang violence, is eager to infiltrate. And when they learn that Rick Jr.’s daddy has been funneling weapons to the gangs, they pull Rick Jr. aside and tell him that his daddy is going to prison if Rick Jr. doesn’t become an FBI informant on the gangs.

Never mind that Rick Jr. is only 14 years old.

So Rick Jr. cozies up to the gang leaders and starts selling their drugs, with the FBI’s approval. The big trouble, however, is that the state of Michigan discovers Rick Jr.’s drug ring and doesn’t give a hoot that he’s an FBI informant. Legal dramas ensue.

Before Rick Jr. goes to court, however, he gets to live large as a gangster. In fact, he is seduced by two older, good-looking women. And if you don’t think the sex scene is improbable, then you need to take a look at a photo of Rick Jr.

“White Boy Rick” wouldn’t be much without McConaughey, who seems to have perfected sleazy roles in the past decade. But even McConaughey can’t elevate this tale. It trafficks in tired tropes about Detroit and inner-city neighborhoods, and while it has a good supporting cast of black actors, there’s something off-key about the movie’s stance on race relations.

Go see it for McConaughey. He’s fun to watch, and he has some killer lines.



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