Published September 1, 1997
Kicked in the Head directed by Matthew Harrison and co-written by him and the film’s star, Kevin Corrigan, is another of those slacker movies whose makers got far too much money far too early in their careers. This is a movie so immature in its conception, its writing and its execution that even in spite of such stars as Linda Fiorentino, James Woods and Burt Young, it looks like an amateur college production. Messrs Harrison and Corrigan appear to remain in that callow age of youth which has yet to learn even so simple a lesson as that what appears riotously funny when you’re stoned is often not funny at all to sober people who have paid seven bucks apiece and upwards to watch. You’d would like to think that they will learn this as a result of this film’s being a total flop, but movies as bad as this by Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith have been moderately successful (to their authors’ considerable detriment) and so may this be.
The story consists of the miscellaneous and picaresque adventures of a young man called Redmond (Mr Corrigan) who has either been burned out or evicted from his apartment (the story varies with successive tellings) and goes to “crash” at the apartment of his friend, one Stretch (Michael Rapaport). On the way there, his Uncle Sammy (Mr Woods), an obvious no-good, commissions him to deliver a bag of cocaine to someone he will meet at a subway stop. Redmond is so uncurious that he doesn’t even realize what is in the bag until he is almost at the drop, and then he is distracted by a weeping flight attendant called Megan (Miss Fiorentino) who is on her way to JFK. He attempts to introduce himself, but she brushes him off. Nevertheless, he decides that she is the goddess of his devotion.
As Redmond arrives at the appointed subway station, one man comes to meet him and another comes behind him and starts shooting at him. There is a lengthy exchange of fire, but no one gets hit. This effectless gun-play happens several times more in the movie. Redmond decides to return to Stretch without either delivering or returning the bag. Stretch, a beer distributor whose competitors have recently decided to “take a very un-American attitude to my competitive pricing,” offers Redmond a job, but Redmond says to him as he originally said to Uncle Sammy that he is “on a quest for truth” and “a voyage of self -discovery”—or, and this seems to be virtually the same thing to him, “going through a self-destructive phase.”
By this time we begin to notice that the style of the screenplay is a sort of quasi-formulaic repetition of certain phrases. The “voyage of self-discovery” etc. are only used a couple of times, but they set up the expectation of repetition. Uncle Sammy is repeatedly said to be “in deep doo doo” and when he sees Redmond he tells him that he, Sammy, is “the luckiest man alive” (though everyone else calls him a loser) and to call his mother. He also says, “you got any small bills; I only got big bills and I don’t want to break them.” Then he relieves him of all his money and says: “This way it all stays in the family.” Also, every time he meets Sammy, there is a “That’s good/No that’s bad” routine which tries and fails to sound natural.
It is an interesting writing concept and lends something of the flavor of traditional epic to this Bildungsroman in celluloid, but the overall conception is so juvenile that it is hopeless to try to imbue it with gravity by such a means. The framework is too light to bear it. What purports to be the general idea, summed up in Stretch’s typically mangled rendering as “Life is what happens to you when you’re afraid of s***,” is a good one, but it seems to have nothing much to do with what actually happens. Moreover, it requires more sympathy that we can muster for a central figure whose quest for truth produces nothing but adolescent behavior and adolescent poetry:
How can I possibly hope,
When hope becomes a rope
Dancing around my neck,
Dancing around my neck.
He’s right there, anyway. His only hope was to grow up before making a feature film, but they wouldn’t let him do it, poor fellow.