Viewers beware: Telling Lies in America (Banner Entertainment) is hypnotizing. It could be the music, pure 1960s blues. Or it could be the atmosphere, sultry and mysterious.
But it is neither of those elements. It is Brad Renfro.
Renfro (Sleepers), a precocious lad of 15, runs away with the heart, soul and spirit of this thoughtful coming-of-age comedy about the consequences of the American Dream.
Renfro stars as Karchy Jonas, a clumsy, naive, but not-so-innocent Hungarian teenager in 1960s Cleveland. Karchy, severely disillusioned by America, hides his struggle by telling lies. He believes that words, however dishonest, will make him stronger.
By forging hundreds of signatures, Karchy wins a local radio contest and becomes the apprentice of smooth-talking D.J. Billy Magic (Kevin Bacon, Murder in the First). Magic takes him on a ride, complete with booze and sex, into adulthood. Here, Karchy learns the true nature of honesty, success and freedom.
From the sultry reds and blues emitted from the streets of Cleveland to the shaky close-ups of Renfro, Telling Lies has the look and feel of American Graffiti. Instead of tiresomely explaining each scene, screenwriter Joe Ezsterhas reels in the audience.
Director Guy Ferland creates a mysterious underground atmosphere. He brilliantly illustrates the exciting confusion Karchy feels as he plunges into Billy Magic’s world.
As Billy Magic, Bacon brings to the screen his vile, sneaky charisma. His role in Telling Lies is no different than a dozen other roles he has played before.
Veteran actor Maximillian Schell (Julia) gives a moving performance as Karchy’s committed father, a man determined to become an American citizen alongside his son. Calista Flockhart (The Birdcage) is sweet and engaging as the well-intentioned Diney, Karchy’s crush.
Renfro, however, is the star. He has an insight beyond his years and a talent humbling to those who watch. It also helps that he happens to be devastatingly handsome.
At one point in the film, Diney says to Karchy, “You’re going to make one hell of a man someday.” But Brad Renfro is one hell of an actor today.
Telling Lies is now playing.4 HATCHETS