All great art comes from love. It also comes from taking chances. Sequels have strangled the movie industry in recent decades. Studios have shrunk from the risks of originality, and this absence of a creative spark has made the movies feel dry as a result. Movies too often center around repetitive gimmicks, rather than newness. Enter "Johnny X": a unique combination of musical, drama, comedy, sci-fi, horror and romance, all coexisting on the screen just as they can in real life. At last we have a vital, oxidizing, verdant offertory to the movie industry. Johnny X is highly original, takes chances and no matter how many gadgets are whirring away at any given time, there is always a warm undercurrent of a story about people. Johnny X is also shot in black and white, which creates a welcome aura of hominess, both by recalling the chiaroscuro beauty of this art form, and by redirecting our focus to the inner world - where meaningful human complexity truly exists.
The film begins with our protagonist, Johnny X, played with slicked back, leather jacket coolness by Will Keenan, who wields enough big screen toughness to hold our attention; enough reserve to suggest that he is really a hero experiencing inner conflict; and enough subtle cuteness to suggest that there really is a good guy underneath. Johnny's story is one we all know, because we have either lived or seen it ourselves: he suffers from the emotional malnutrition of parental neglect, and his plight has had a negative effect upon his behavior. And, as if to rearrange his life with a hint of gangland social structure, he has replaced his missing family with a surrogate clan: a roving pack of similarly wounded rebels named "the Ghastly Ones," who channel pain in to renegade badness. In a touching and eloquent final performance given by screen legend Kevin McCarthy, we are introduced to the Ghastly Ones: a universally recognizable pack of disenfranchised youth. It is through their eyes, so blankly staring out through black jail house hoods, that our journey through their chases - and their issues - shall be guided.
Johnny and his gang of misfits are exiled to earth as punishment for an endless string of petty crimes. The collective foibles of earth, unveiled so cleverly in montage in the film's opening scene, serve as a type of comic depth charge that forces us to view these aliens in light of our own earthly imperfections. Deftly, we the audience, become our own thematic setting for the film.
Johnny's ingénue is the intergalactic temptress Bliss, whose predicament between a bad boy and a good boy initiates an examination of the issues that plague both. What Bliss learns, and how she resolves the issues between the two, forms the charm and lessons of Johnny X. And learning about ourselves through exiles from another planet is metaphorically OK, since all young people come from another planet anyways. Bliss is brought to life by De Anna Joy Brooks in a screen stopping performance. Firm on her heels as she sings and dances through the films many attractive original songs, Bliss is the centralizing force of a pack of Ghastly Girls who know how to tantalize male eyes, and paralyze male reason, with the mere hint of a tightly clothed body part. In "These Lips That Never Lie," one of the film's strongest of many memorable musical numbers, she wraps her arms -' and legs -' around the unsuspecting, wide-eyed Chip, played with boyish, naïve charm by Les Williams. Chip, domestic to a fault, becomes our quintessential good boy -' noble, heroic, but too programmed by society's dogma to ever come to understand the world on his own terms. Bliss, trained through the school of hard knocks, senses Chip's naiveté, and as she masterfully manipulates the unsuspecting Chip, Brooks unfurls all the lusty magic of a golden age screen siren.
Each of the Ghastly Ones is ushered into the world of goodness through pairings with other characters. Ironically, Johnny's guide appears in the form of a crazy, aging rock star and universal bad boy, the gargoylish Mickey O'Flynn. In one of the best of many strong performances, Creed Bratton walks us through the emotional travails of the soul bearing, ailing star, who must desperately maintain his bad boy image while making peace with the world through subtle goodness towards the younger generation. Bratton masterfully balances wicked machismo with subtle hints of compassion, as if invoking the presence of a secretly gentle satyr.
Strong supporting performances abound. Kate Maberly carries the film's parallel romantic pursuit of good after ghastly with wide-eyed gawkiness. She wears polyester florals, struggles on her heels, and even coaxes the sympathies of the uber-jaded Mickey O'Flynn. And a talk show scene with veteran Paul Williams and newcomer Caroline Macey is so skillfully dripping with satire, that the unexpected and sensational appearance of the fleeing, quirky O'Flynn seems ideally arranged. The scene surges with the energy of a script filled with many skillful dramatic bridges and brilliantly conceived one-liners.
Paul Bunnell's "Ghastly Love of Johnny X" triumphs with a multi-genre, universal exploration of youth, rebellion and how we choose everything from our lovers to our planets. It shows us that while girls sometimes prefer bad boys over good boys, that bad boys must still redeem their goodness in order to be worthy of their love. Rebellion must be subtle to be cool. Only then can earth become the fun planet of choice. Johnny X delivers all of this with a tremendous sense of style -' an interplanetary tour de force. As for Bunnell, the inspired orchestrator of our musical, comical cosmos - exciting new directors don't come along every day, but when one does, it's refreshing to know that we can recognize him through a reminder of what once made the movies great in the first place.
Review by bsullivan3 from the Internet Movie Database.