BULLY EXAMINES TEEN SHOCK OF BOBBY KENT MURDER

Jana Meier / South Florida Sun-Sentinel / July 16, 2001

For those who think this summer's bevy of PG 13-rated movies is too tame, too cute or just too nice, director Larry Clark has created an unflinching tale of murderous revenge among Florida teens in Bully.

In the movie, which has opened in New York and Los Angeles, Clark revisits familiar territory: sex, drugs and violence among young adults that earned the photographer turned director a Golden Palm at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.

Clark says Americans need to be shocked out of their complacency, and his career has been dedicated to doing so, from photos of his drug-addict friends shooting heroin in the 1971 book Tulsa to his more recent movies about directionless kids spiraling into disaster.

Shot in a gritty documentary style, his first feature film, the NC 17-rated Kids, offered a raw look at the unprotected sexual escapades of New York teen-agers in the era of AIDS. His new movie spotlights another hot-button topic, bullying.

"Bullying is a part of life, which makes it a topic that should be discussed because everyone has been bullied and we know the damage that it can do, both emotionally and physically," Clark, 55, told reporters in a recent round of interviews to promote the film.

Based on the true story of the murder of Bobby Kent of Hollywood at Weston rockpit, Bully shows that danger lurks not only in the urban jungle but also in strip malls and suburban homes.

In the 1993 incident that inspired the film, a vengeful pack of friends were convicted of conspiring to kill Kent, then 20, after years of alleged abuse at his hands.

Controversy generated by Kids made Clark "a marked man," in his words, and Bully has stirred critics again. The Motion Pictures Association of America released the film without a rating, all but banishing it to a limited arthouse release.

"'Hide your children!' they said," Clark said, laughing of the industry group's response to his newest work.

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE?

When the kids in Bully are not busy plotting how to kill the sadistic Kent (Nick Stahl), they are having sex, smoking joints and playing violent video games -- or dropping acid, listening to gangsta rap and making amateur porn films.

Lisa Connelly (Rachel Miner) and Kent's best friend Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro) do all those things, often several of them at once. But Kent casts an evil shadow over their budding relationship until the frumpy Connelly snaps and vows revenge.

With the promise of sex, Connelly and her pals lure Kent to a desolate area on the edge of the Everglades.

A graphically violent free-for-all ensues, during which the bully is stabbed, beaten and dropped into the swamp to die.

"It was difficult to let go at the end of the day," Stahl said about his role as the bully. "It was a hard thing to do, to be so violent."

Like Kids, Clark's new movie wags an admonishing finger at parents, who have a tendency to avoid confrontations and shower their kids with gifts rather than attention, he said. The parents in Bully are shocked when they discover the crime their sons and daughters have committed.

Critical opinion about Bully has been split almost as violently as it was over the stark, graphic style of Kids.

Newsweek's David Ansen said Clark "is after more than voyeuristic shock" and manages to get "deep under the skin of these 16-year-old souls." He calls the film "a raunchy suburban Crime and Punishment."

But entertainment trade magazine Daily Variety was unsparing, calling Bully a "shamelessly prurient, insight-free spin on a 1993 killing" and said the movie was "likely to elicit just a passing belch from more discerning/jaded viewers."

Clark himself has come in for sharp criticism, having been tagged by The San Francisco Examiner after his debut film as "a creepy man who gets his kicks by hanging out with teens, living on the edge and occasionally tipping over."

Still, Clark has shown he is not afraid of stirring up a little trouble, and he is already working on a new film that shows no sign of backing away from the controversy.

Ken Park, a movie about five families living in suburban California, was going to be Clark's first movie, but it was left on hold when the opportunity to make Kids came along.

Clark said he is aiming for an R rating for Ken Park but, ever the provocateur, he told reporters he has also tried to satisfy girlfriends who urged him to be more evenhanded in the film by showing more male nudity than he has in past.

This time, he vowed, "everybody's naked."