Over the Edge (1979)

19 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

This had to happen sooner or later. Kids are pushed over the edge by their parents. They feel alienated and condescended by authority. At least, that’s what psychiatrists would conclude about the outrageous behavior the kids pull off in the movie “Over the Edge.” The marketing for the film tells it appropriately: “They were old enough to know better but too young to care.”

“Over the Edge” is a depressing and quite genuine film about the lives of troubled youths who live in a Denver suburb called New Granada, still in development. The kids spend their days at the local recreation center while the adults—parents, cops, and schoolteachers—try to find a way around the “youth problem,” since they feel that the kids are in the way of their paradise. One cop, in particular, practically stalks these kids each day to try and catch something on them. This is Deputy Doberman (Harry Northup), who is not really a bad guy but a deputy who knows more about the law than about human nature.

The kids have their own fun avoiding the adults during the day—going to parties, having a little hash or speed, playing with a gun they stole from someone else’s home, and talking about sex. It should be added that most of these kids aren’t bad. They just feel unwelcome by the adults, especially when they close down the rec center so the Texas investors who visit New Granada won’t think the suburb is invested with youths. That’s really low.

The main character is a good kid named Carl (Michael Kramer). He hangs with tough guy Richie (Matt Dillon) and has other friends who are into dope, hash, and speed. His parents love him and think that he’s hanging with the wrong crowd. (And Carl, like most kids in his situation, can’t fully explain under so much pressure.) He has a crush on a girl named Cory (Pamela Ludwig), who is said to have a sexual reputation which may not be true, and she has feelings for him. Soon, they become very close with one another.

But disaster strikes and Carl winds up in a nasty situation when Doberman shoots one of his best friends. This leads up to the climactic, violent ending, in which the kids are over the edge and ready to strike back at the adults. They don’t perform physical harm to the adults, but they make them suffer by showing them what they can do when pushed over the edge. The ads for this movie apparently found the climax promotable and made the whole movie sound like a youth version of “The Warriors.” I’m serious—this ending is ultimately violent. There are destroyed cars, exploding gas tanks, and more.

The ending may be a bit unconvincing but what leads up to it is exceptionally brilliant. We get to know these kids, we feel for them even when we shouldn’t, and we care about what happens to the kid who is doomed to be shot and killed (not saying who it is). “Over the Edge” gives a great portrait of teenage life. The kids are portrayed in a convincing way—they have adolescent values and real emotions. This is helped by great performances by the young actors. Michael Kramer is convincing as the trouble teenaged lead. Matt Dillon is convincingly tough as Richie and he has the best line: “I only got one law: a kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid.” Pamela Ludwig shares some terrific scenes with Kramer. Their scenes together seem so wonderfully crafted; everything they say and do make them right for each other. There’s another kid, played by blond-haired, wide-eyed Tom Fergus, who steals every scene he’s in.

Actually, if you think about it, maybe these adults have gone too far. Maybe they deserve to see what they’ve stooped their kids into doing. Maybe. But the scary thing is that there are kids in the real world who are like the kids in “Over the Edge.” They’re old enough to know better but too young to care.

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