Sometimes, you see a film trailer and you know this particular movie isn’t for you. For me, that movie was “White Boy Rick.”
For those unfamiliar — which is a lot of people — the film is based on a true story and tells the tale of Rick Wershe Jr., a 15-year-old drug “kingpin” and FBI informant in Detroit. He’s played by Richie Merritt, a Baltimore high school student in his first-ever role. Judging from this film, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about him becoming a household name.
Rick’s family is all kinds of dysfunctional. His dad, Rick Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), is a gun dealer and his sister, Dawn (Bel Powley), is hooked on drugs. His mom left them, and we never meet her. The family scrapes by, thanks to illegal drug sales. Rick Sr. has dreams of owning a video store. He wants a normal life and even tries to celebrate the buying of illegal guns by taking the family out for custard.
While selling guns to some drug dealers, Rick Jr. becomes friendly with them and ends up embroiled in their world of drugs, sex and fur coats. It’s a world of glitz and glamour, and Rick can’t help but be sucked in. He’s a 14-year-old kid when the film starts, but Johnny Curry (Jonathan Majors) and his crew treat Rick like a man. He’s the only white guy in the group, thus the nickname “White Boy Rick,” which sticks.
The FBI threatens WBR’s dad, forcing him to be a drug informant. The agents — Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Byrd (Rory Cochrane) and Jackson (Brian Tyree Henry) — are just as crooked as the drug dealers unfortunately.
A lot of things happen — none of them overly interesting — and by the end of the film, WBR is in prison. He’s only 17, but he’s sentenced to a life sentence for selling drugs. Maybe that’s a spoiler, but honestly, you should just do yourself a favor: Read this review and avoid watching the real thing.
Here’s the problem. There’s one likable character in this film, and it’s a little boy who comes after WBR for getting his sister pregnant. He’s precocious and adds some humor to a rather dull film. Of the main characters, Rick Sr. is probably the most interesting, but I’m pretty certain that’s only because McConaughey is engaging in any role he plays. Rick Sr. is a dirtbag, but it’s easy to believe he really wants good things for his family. Sure, he sells guns illegally and makes silencers in his basement. He still wants his daughter to get clean, and who doesn’t like custard?
Merritt is completely bland, and I truly hope he finishes his high school education by adding drama classes in. WBR is dull, and I’m fairly certain I spent the first third of the movie only understanding half of what everyone but McConaughey and the FBI agents was saying. Powley was probably the worst, but Merritt was close behind. Sometimes, fake accents are done well. And, then there’s “White Boy Rick.”
WBR is supposed to be a sympathetic character, but from the get-go, he’s unlikable. He has zero redeeming qualities. Even his attempts at helping his family seem more self-serving than anything else. He’s just not likable, and as I watched I just kept waiting for the film to end and WBR to go away.
It’s not to say that director Yann Demange and his crew don’t try. The film begins in 1983, and it feels genuine to the era. There are things that work cinematically. Not a lot, but some. For me though, I have to care about the characters, at least a little. I want to be a part of their story. I want to care about the outcome and their fate.
And maybe that’s the true problem: I don’t care about any of these people. “White Boy Rick” is supposed to be a bio-pic of how one teenage boy was failed by the system. It’s meant to be a portrayal of how one young man, a victim of both his upbringing and corrupt cops, was led astray. At the end of the film, we’re even told that Wershe is the longest-serving, non-violent offender in the history of Michigan.
I’m OK with that. Maybe the real Wershe was a likable chap, even lovable by someone. The movie WBR is insufferable and deserves whatever he got. Maybe, I’m being harsh. I accept that. But, when I go see a movie, I want to be entertained. I want to enjoy my two hours. Neither of those things happened here. “White Boy Rick” just wasn’t for me, and judging from a lot of reviews I’ve seen, it’s probably not for you either.