The Outsiders (1983)

Week of January 26, 2006


Francis Ford Coppola's mediocre Outsiders resembles a McDonald's drive-through version of S.E. Hinton's perfectly pitched coming-of-age novel. Yet the movie remains a must-see for even the most casual cinema buff, as it launched the careers of no less than seven megastars who were virtual no-names at the time: Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio and Patrick Swayze. C. Thomas Howell, mysteriously, made like Soul Man and faded to black not long after skillfully playing Pony Boy, the film's lead.

While Cruise has a bit role and Lane has led more of a Jenny-come-lately career, The Outsiders perfectly illustrates why Macchio and Estevez eventually turned into total flameouts: They're bad actors. Swayze and Lowe are more complicated. Playing two blue-collar brothers raising their youngest sibling after their parents die in a train crash, they're the two best things about this movie not named Matt Dillon (the lone cast member whose career was, in fairness, already in bloom). Swayze's tough and understated, Lowe sharp and pretty, but not too pretty. Dirty Dancing and St. Elmo's Fire killed these guys, though. That pair of mid-'80s films marked the zenith of each actor's fame, but also created a massive undercurrent of critical backlash that led to their merciless falls from grace. Lowe's sex tape subsequently sunk him — today, sex tapes make actresses and pop stars out of no-talent ditz whores — while Roadhouse and manifold horrible script choices doomed Swayze. The former has since made a long climb back to respectability via the small screen, while Swayze's a D-lister if ever there was one. Mike Seely Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

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