Drugstore Cowboy

Released:  1989

Cast:  Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James LeGros, Heather Graham

SUMMARY:  In 1971, Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon) leads a crew of drug addicts and small-time criminals, consisting of his wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch), dimwitted Rick (James LeGros) and Rick’s girlfriend Nadine (Heather Graham).  To get drugs, the group robs drugstores with some degree of success:  usually, the girls cause a distraction while Bob steals the drugs, and Rick acts as lookout.  Bob, Dianne and Rick are all full partners in the organization, and receive a full share of the drugs they steal, but Nadine, who joined the group after they robbed the store she worked at, does not.  She has not been doing drugs as long as the others, and is still regarded as something of an outsider, so she does not receive the same amount of drugs.  However, Bob and his crew are well-known in town, and the police keep a close eye on them.  In particular, a detective named Gentry is determined to catch Bob in the act.  Early in the film, Gentry leads a raid on the house where the crew lives, looking for drugs:  only a short time earlier, Dianne had buried them in the yard.  The house is trashed during the raid, so the group gets an apartment to stay in and tries to move without Gentry noticing.  Shortly after the move, Nadine asks if she and Rick can get a dog.  Bob refuses, and Dianne tells them that she and Bob once had a dog; it got out of the car during a job once, was found by the police, then led the police to couple’s house.  Rick asks if there are any other things to avoid, to which Bob replies that hats on beds and the backs of mirrors are major no-nos.  Despite their efforts to get away from Gentry, the police quickly find the crew again, and begin staking them out.  Bob quickly notices this and decides to have a little fun:  he sends an anonymous note to the police, claiming that Bob Hughes keeps the drugs in his neighbor’s apartment, then tells that neighbor (an overprotective family man) that someone has been peering through his windows.  The next evening, as the crew watches through their windows, the police officers use a ladder to look into the neighbor’s window — only to be met by the shotgun-toting neighbor, who shoots one of the men.  Bob is delighted, but is soon informed by Gentry that one of the officers is now determined to get payback.

To let the heat die down, the crew decides to go on the road for a while.  They send packages of drugs to various bus stations across the country, then travel between them to get their needed fix (so they don’t get caught with drugs in the car).  Eventually they stop at a motel, and while walking one evening Bob sees an open window in a pharmacy.  Though Dianne isn’t with them, they rob the store and make out with a huge haul.  The initial happiness is short-lived, though, as the division of the drugs between the crew members makes Nadine angry.  She and Bob get into a nasty argument, and when Bob decides to hit a hospital right away, Nadine is left at the motel.  Before the other three leave, Nadine throws a hat on the bed in front of Rick.  At the hospital, Dianne and Rick cause a distraction that draws the hospital staff outside, while Bob goes inside to get the drugs.  However, their distraction does not last long enough for him to get out, and the noise he is making is noticed.  Two male orderlies/nurses are summoned, and although Bob does get away, he is left with a serious cut above his eye.  Dianne and Rick have panicked and gone home without Bob, only to find that Nadine has overdosed and is dead on the bedroom floor.  When Bob returns, he first notices the hat on the bed, then the body.  The issue of getting rid of the body gets more complicated when the remaining three crew members learn that their motel is hosting s convention of sheriffs, who have already started to arrive.  Initially, they put the body in the attic crawlspace, but Bob is too nervous to leave it there for long.  He and Dianne put it into a body bad, then manage to sneak it out of the motel, and into the woods, where Bob buries it.  The whole experience deeply affects Bob, and after safely getting the body out of the motel, he decides to give up his life of addiction and theft, get on a methadone program, and go straight.  Rick and Dianne decide to stay behind.  Bob goes home, gets on a methadone program, gets a job, and rents a small apartment.  Despite the fact that he is living alone, among other addicts, Bob manages to go straight, even after Dianne tries to entice him back to the crew.  She leaves him some drugs, but Bob gives them away without taking any.  Unfortunately, he is surprised in his apartment just after by an angry ex-friend, who along with a muscle man, severely beat, then shoot Bob.  The film ends as Bob is taken to the hospital in an ambulance, musing that he does not regret his decision to go straight, and knows he will survive.

MY TAKE:  First, let me say that Kelly Lynch played Vivian Wood in the movie version of Charlie’s Angels — that’s where I knew her from, anyway.  So it’s a total accident that I’ve reviewed two drug movies in a row, but it does provide an interesting comparison.  In contrast to the addicts in Requiem, who are basically living in hell, Bob and his friends seem to be doing fairly well.  Maybe it’s the fact that they are addicted to prescription drugs, rather than street drugs, maybe it’s because this movie was set in the 70s, when drug addiction was not such a well-known and hated problem.  Whatever the reason, the crew manages to steal enough and sell enough to keep themselves high and in various houses/apartments.  However, they aren’t without issues:  Nadine is jealous that the others get more drugs than her, and overdoses.  Bob is then forced to figure out a way to get rid of the body while literally surrounded by cops, which he somehow miraculously does.  This experience, rather than any drug-induced hardship, provides his rock bottom, and he decides to go straight.  What I thought was amazing was that he actually managed to do this, with (seemingly) very little difficulty.  He’s given some methadone, so his withdrawal isn’t as terrible as going cold turkey (although there are people now who actually get addicted to methadone), and is at least helped in getting an apartment.  He manages to get a job, despite his past, and sticks with it.  When Dianne visits, he tells her that he actually kind of likes the stability, and doesn’t seem tempted to go back to his old life.  Of course, he is patently stupid for leaving the bag of drugs on his table:  the cops have been waiting a long time to catch him with drugs in his possession, and even though Gentry has let off in his pursuit, Bob would still have been in major trouble if he was caught.  I was hoping he’d just flush them down the toilet, but he decided to give them to a friend, which I guess is better than doing them yourself.  I really couldn’t understand why he didn’t put up more of a fight when he was getting beat up, unless he thought that he somehow deserved what he was getting.  It looked like he would have been able to get to his feet pretty easily, and when the guy threatened to shoot him, he definitely could have at least rolled away.  Not sure about that ending.

RATING:  Not bad, but kind of pales next to Requiem.

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