Johnny Handsome (1989)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Crime Thriller, Melodrama  |   Release Date - Sep 29, 1989 (USA)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

It's ironic that a film about physical deformity cured by plastic surgery undergoes a facelift of its own part way through, changing from an original cinematic entity into an all-too-ordinary crime thriller. Johnny Handsome goes downhill about the time that a facially misshapen and vocally muffled Mickey Rourke -- who seems to be giving a daring, vanity-free performance -- is miraculously transformed, scar- and slur-free, into the smoldering brooder we know so well. As soon as the makeup -- a superlative effort by former Oscar nominees Michael Westmore and Zoltan Elek -- gets stripped away, Johnny Handsome loses its vitality, resembling one of Rourke's prototypical seedy noirs a lot more than a thoughtful contemplation of identity and physical appearance. It's also unfortunately familiar territory for director Walter Hill, whose smart visual style, including some sharp cutting on form, gets neutralized by narrative clich├ęs. Johnny Handsome hearkens back to the days when Morgan Freeman was still allowed to play unsympathetic characters, only two years after his menacing turn as Fast Black in Street Smart.