It is often said that reality is stranger than fiction. And, some stories, you just can’t make up. Insert Ricky Wershe, Jr., better known as “White Boy Rick.” The moniker bestowed on a Detroit teenager turned hustler, turned FBI informant, turned drug dealer is the title of the film released nationwide in September 2018.
Staying true to the lead characters naiveté, LBI Productions tapped a young Detroit native named Richie Merritt to portray Rick. A novice to film in every sense of the word, Merritt does bring an uneasiness to the role, which is oddly appropriate for the character of Ricky, who finds himself in over his head in almost every scenario of the film.
Like many “rags to riches” stories, the need for the hustle comes out of poverty stricken environments and a feeling that there is no other option than to acquire money illegally. For Ricky, the dysfunction of his family is laid out early in the film in one of the few moments of levity that shows the chaotic dynamic between his dad, grandparents and sister.
Hollywood veteran and Academy Award winner, Matthew McConaughey, portrays Ricky’s father. Every time McConaughey is on the screen, he carries the film and is one of the saving graces for the movie that often falls short. As a licensed gun dealer, Ricky’s father teaches him early on how to bend the rules to make more money, but struggles with Ricky’s decision to begin selling drugs, which he sees as being too dangerous and going too far.
Other noteworthy performances came from Bel Powley who plays Ricky’s drug addicted sister, Taylour Paige who plays Cathy Volson-Curry, wife of the leader of the crew Ricky infultrates, and rapper YG, who plays one of Curry’s lieutenants. Their performances make the movie believable in moments where it is difficult to suspend disbelief.
The story of Ricky Wershe, Jr. is one that is anything but boring, but the film adaptation did not do his story justice. There are several holes in the plot and underdeveloped stories that leave the viewer feeling incomplete. Audiences seem to agree. The film only ranks a 59% on Rotten Tomatoes. From a studio standpoint, the film is not a success either. The film had a $30 million dollar budget, but only clocked in $9 million during opening weekend. Many critics believe it was the struggle in properly marketing such a complex story. Perhaps, but I would also argue that it was the poor execution of telling such a complex one.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, there are relevant takeaways, particularly regarding drug culture and how race relations are prevalent not only in sentencing drug dealers, but in the empathy for drug users. Although the film is set in 1984, some of the dialogue is spot-on for present day frustrations regarding this matter.
The scene that will remain with me from this film is when Johnny Curry, played by Jonathan Majors, sits down with Ricky when he finds out that Ricky has started to sell drugs. He cautions him of the pitfalls but places even more emphasis on how it is more dangerous for him as a black man because he would get a harsher sentence for a similar crime. He point blank says there is “white time” and “black time” when it comes to drugs. “You’d be better off murdering somebody,” Curry warns.
Not to give away any huge spoilers, but Curry was correct. Ricky does end up getting a life sentence for his crimes. The injustice of that placed on a teenager is outrageous.
This film had great potential but did not reach its mark. My Reel Review for this film is 2.5 out of 5 stars. It is worth seeing as a conversation piece regarding the overarching themes of poverty, drug culture, and drug policies. But, I would not recommend this movie if you are looking for an overall entertaining and well thought out film. And, that’s Reel…