“White Boy Rick” Entertains, Yet Fails to Be Memorable

Andrew Mello, Arts & Entertainment Editor

The film White Boy Rick is about justice; the bitterly fair kind that lands people in prison disconnected from their families, and the unfair kind, the type that leaves kids dead on the street.

Throughout the whole movie all actions, are met with swift reactions and retaliation. Snitching on your crew can get you shot in your own home, by your own friends. Nobody’s loyal enough to say no to money, and everybody’s trying to end up the last living player in the game.

The world established for White Boy Rick is its biggest flaw. It’s established as the most cutthroat place in history, loyalty meaning nothing in comparison to money. But that’s only  told to us, and never really shown. We only see photographs of those killed by criminal lifestyles, and when we are witness to such actions, they don’t connect and feel only like slight problems.

White Boy Rick starts by showing us our protagonist, Rick (Richie Merritt), in his natural habitat, hustling at a gun show. He’s standing at a booth picking apart two assault rifles with a trained eye. Quickly, he exposes the dealer’s false advertising, “These AK’s are fake, they’re not Russian, these are Egyptian.” The dealer starts to sweat and quickly makes empty threats about how exactly he’d use those Egyptian rifles.

Then, in comes Rick Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), the more grisled conman and obvious teacher to his fourteen-year-old son. He walks in, wraps his hand around his son’s shoulder, and talks his way through leaving with gear worth quadruple what he paid. “I like this one.” Rick says holding a stylish sidearm. His father nods to the owner and takes it with him.

From his very own father, Rick Jr. would learn the lessons he later used to become an informant to the FBI, and would eventually help him construct the criminal empire of drugs and weapons which landed him life in prison at just 17 years old.

Upon returning from the gun show across state lines, Rick Sr. walks in on his addict daughter shacked up with her dealer boyfriend, and his yelling and uproar startles the strungout young woman so badly she runs away with her boyfriend. After his sister’s departure, both Sr. and Jr. get to work on their next scam.

The world established for White Boy Rick is its biggest flaw.

Rick Jr. walks into the hideout for a local drug ring, bag in hand. He enters the room incredibly casually for a high schooler carrying assault weapons. Opening the bag, he tosses the rifles out to be inspected, while he pulls out his real bread maker. The long aluminum tube he twists onto the end of a barrel is “James Bond level,” silencing the weapon.

The analogy given to the audience is the classic burger and fries upsell strategy. The product without the pricey accessory just isn’t the same product, so if you’re serious about your convictions, you don’t really have a choice about it.

A lot of White Boy Rick is dedicated to moments and scenes like this, scenes that suggest the kind of lives lived in 1980’s Detroit. It’s meant to seem like a no rules warzone, but we’re only ever told that, and never quite shown it.

It also doesn’t help how spotty Richie Merritt’s performance is as Rick Jr, giving a hundred percent for some scenes and others coming off very amateurish.

Half way through his journey from kid to kingpin, Rick’s friend shoots him in the chest, landing him in the hospital. In a better movie that betrayal would’ve taken more than one scene to forget about it, and could’ve driven the plot to explore a different side of Rick than had been shown, a crueler side now adjusted to the world he inhabited. But the only emotional impact from this action is watching McConaughey’s real pain and love for his child.

After finding out what happened McConaughey sits in his car, gun in hand, watching the men responsible pass and walk by. With every tear that falls down his face , he knows more that he can’t have his justice because his son needs him more than ever. McConaughey’s performance is the central heartbeat to the whole movie, any scene he’s in he steals.

Mostly entertaining but not incredibly memorable, White Boy Rick is a very interesting true story with a few moments of greatness but not nearly enough to engage with the audience.

This piece also appears in our September 2018 print edition.