Cinema: J.U.N.K.

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Directed by Norman Jewison

Screenplay by Joe Eszterhas and Sylvester Stallone

The acronym F.I.S.T. stands for the Federation of Interstate Truckers, a fictional labor union that only a newly arrived Martian could misunderstand as inspired by anything but the Teamsters. The movie "F.I.S.T." stands for nearly 2½ hours of almost unmitigated boredom—a misfired would-be proletarian epic with Sylvester Stallone misplaying the Jimmy Hoffa part with a self-confidence that borders on the sublime.

When movies go as wrong as this manifestly expensive project has done, it is difficult to know where to begin—or to stop—criticizing them. But basically this potted history of what press releases cannot seem to resist calling "three turbulent decades" of the union's history, beginning in untutored idealism and ending in equally unconscious corruption, suffers from the same flaw as do the fictions that have slunk out from under Harold Robbins' overcoat in recent years: what might be called the substitution of analogy for insight. In other words, the writers who create them seem to think it is enough to show us characters who, they suggest with a wink (or more often a brutal slam in the ribs), are just like the famous people we are always reading about in the press. Whereupon they offer some Psych. 101 explanation for their characters' behavior and go off thinking that with this primitive bit of mimesis they have completed the artist's job. Of course, they have scarcely begun.

In the present instance the Hoffa character, known as Johnny Kovak, is introduced as a hot-tempered youth unloading trucks in a warehouse in 1937. He is alleged to have such a charismatic way with his co-workers that his rise from organizer in a feeble and cowardly truckers' union to president of his local, his regional council, and then of the entire international virtually needs no further explanation. But really it does, since one must assume that if we in the audience cannot quite make out Stallone's moronic mumblings, the guys in the union halls may possibly have the same difficulty. This closed-in quality of Stallone's bespeaks not a leader of men but a narcissistic, self-absorbed actor star-tripping in the wake of his enormous 1976 success, Rocky.

So does the script, for which Stallone receives co-credit. It offers no psychological insight into what makes a Hoffa, and no historical insight into how the American labor movement so quickly deteriorated into self-serving materialism. That is perhaps excusable; what can you expect from people who not only were not present at the creation, but also never brush up against the modern working man except when they take their Mercedes in for repair?

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