StraysListen to Zach and Bill’s podcast review of Strays at Movie Bonfire

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss this film as some kind of vanity project by an egotistical action star, but after learning that this film is Vin Diesel’s feature film debut, that it premiered at Sundance in 1997, and that coupled with a short film Diesel directed in 1994 (Multi-Facial) Stephen Spielberg’s attention was grabbed enough to cast Vin in Saving Private Ryan, Strays is cast in an entirely new light.

Described as a “multi-cultural Saturday Night Fever“, Strays centers around Rick (Vin Diesel) and his close-knit group of friends as they navigate the perks and perils of the roaming night life and a directionless existence. Beginning with Rick recounting through voiceover how one of his mother’s many boyfriends gave him a copy of the kid’s book Ferdinand the Bull with the inscription “Life’s a Matador,” Strays becomes a forceful character piece as Diesel works to deconstruct and examine the pent up anger and the promiscuous lifestyle of his main character.

The discovery of an actual love interest pushes Rick to distance himself from his former life. And as he becomes more and more involved with the beautiful and relatively innocent Heather (Suzanne Lanza in a nondescript but delicate performance), he finds himself growing apart from his friends and questioning his own ability to love and be loved. Slowly shedding his past, Rick seeks to redeem himself and prove worth loving despite his flaws. In a subdued and engagingly honest performance, Vin Diesel slowly unravels his hero’s outer shell. The muscle-bound action star is riveting to watch here, and nothing in his mainstream body of work since has prepared audiences for the burst of real passion he unleashes in a pause-filled, emotion-laden monologue in one of the final scenes.

The camaraderie between the four guys (Vin Diesel, Mike Epps, Joey Dedio, and F. Valentino Morales) strikes a note of comfortability and realism, while remaining fresh, funny, and familiar. Joey Dedio strikes the most moving portrait as Rick’s slightly slow underdog cousin Fred, Mike Epps (Next Friday, Resident Evil: Extinction) has credited Vin Diesel with his discovery and success as an actor, and F. Valention Morales, a long-time friend of Vin’s, has appeared in almost every Diesel flick since (including Vin Diesel’s upcoming directorial project Hannibal the Conqueror).

Filmed over a rough three week period in New York with a paltry $47,000 budget, Strays is independent filmmaking at its most dedicated: in fact, filming shut down for a full week due to budget constraints, the ending of the film was changed, and the story was shortened when money eventually ran out.

The final product, though undeniably flawed, is still an exceptionally good film. Vin Diesel’s script is tight and authentic, while his directing is effective: repeatedly coaxing impressive performances out of his relatively inexperienced cast. Vin’s own performance here is a revelation the likes of which he sought to recapture in the unexciting Sidney Lumet courtroom drama Find Me Guilty. Though he’s gone on to capture stardom as a stoic action hero, Vin Diesel’s roots as an actor are boldly showcased in this revealing film.

Zach’s Rating: B+
Perfect For: Independent movie buffs and Vin Diesel fans to find common ground
Stay Away if: You prefer the invicible persona of XXX and The Fast and the Furious

To purchase Strays, visit Amazon
For more reviews by Zach Freeman, visit Hubpages

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