“Wisdom”is easily one of the dopiest made-in-earnest films I’ve ever seen, and not only because its star, writer and director, Emilio Estevez, has named the lead character after the title. (It’s not on Netflix but can be viewed on YouTube). Estevez has a comically sulky face that can’t be taken seriously when it explodes in indignation. His stone-faced disdain is the essence of what’s funny in “Repo Man,” one of my favorite films of all time. His teenage punk character is so unflappable and cut off from other people, so unmoved to react emotionally to even mind-boggling stimuli–such as a car trunk full of glowing aliens–that you laugh through your shock at his callousness. (At the end of “Repo Man,” Estevez is invited by a deadbeat to join him on a flying car ride; “What about our relationship?” asks his sweet but nagging love interest, and Estevez, eyes still fixated on the car, snorts “Fuck that” and leaves her. It’s a joyously scabrous finish).
Here, Estevez sulks, all right, he’s mad at the world, to be certain, but his character is bland, speechifying, didactic. John Wisdom is a relatively clean-cut suburban boy–he calls his parents, coyly, by their first names–who can’t rise above a janitor job because of a drunken car theft on his permanent record. Wisdom–and probably Estevez–considers this to be an innocent “prank” that the professional world is unjustly punishing him for; my gut reaction is that some innocent people lost their car, and that Wisdom deserves punishment. (Estevez’ bro Charlie Sheen, in a rare stroke of modesty, plays a wordless scene in a cameo as one of Wisdom’s bosses; he is seen from afar, angrily firing Wisdom.)
Anyway, the disgruntled Wisdom decides there’s no choice but to turn to crime. In the funniest scene, he walks pensively around his various hangout spots–an arcade, a mall–while contemplating which crime to do (he considers murder for a second). In voice over, Estevez says, in his patented Valley-Boy-attempting-depth accent: “I was a criminal…without a crime.” That dilemma is solved when Wisdom tunes in to a TV news special on the plight of poor people losing their homes via foreclosures. He decides he’ll rob banks–not of their money, but of their mortgage documents, so the banks can’t foreclose. His girlfriend (Demi Moore) is dragged into his scheme accidentally; she drives him to the bank but doesn’t know his plan and, not realizing she’s providing the getaway car, drives off to get a Tofutti. Estevez emerges, frantic, with gun in hand, and when Moore drives up he screams at her for getting the Tofutti. (It’s even funnier, later on, to watch the screaming, folder-throwing, rifle-wielding Estevez in robbing action).
I’m not sure I can quite recommend “Wisdom” as a so-bad-it’s-good film. At first, you laugh over how seriously Estevez regards this ridiculous, hackneyed plot (it steals from “Badlands” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” quite shamelessly), but then the earnestness grows depressing, and you’re lulled to a stupor by the film’s lame stabs at lyrical romance (lots of kissy sunset tableaux here) and the groaningly lame subplot about the town folk hailing Estevez and Moore as heroes. Moore is given nothing to do but react to Estevez, with either loyalty or incredulity that turns quickly back to loyalty. She’s so saintly that she smiles sweetly at Estevez even after the police have shot her in the chest and he leaves her to flee the scene. This is a loathsome, decidedly unheroic move, but the film is too gutless to explore that irony. When Wisdom meets his end–he’s shot in the bleachers of a football stadium–the officer says “You left me no choice,” and Wisdom purrs back “You left me none either,” as the synth swells on the soundtrack. The film doesn’t even end there; it cops out with an “is it all a dream?” sequence.