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'Bang Bang You're Dead' hits close to home

Sunday, October 13, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

People love to bash television for all the harm it supposedly does, but sometimes it does good, too. Sometimes it encourages discussion, provokes thought and forces viewers to look at a difficult subject from new angles.


"Bang Bang You're Dead"

When: 8 tonight on Showtime.

Starring: Ben Foster, Tom Cavanagh, Janel Moloney, Randy Harrison.

Showtime's tense "Bang Bang You're Dead," premiering tonight, does just that. It's rated TV-PG with mild violence and a few expletives. More importantly, it contains disturbing content that will hit close to home for some adolescents.

Inspired by a one-act play of the same title by writer William Mastrosimone ("Extremeties"), who also wrote Showtime's movie, "Bang Bang" looks at the root of school violence through the eyes of a troubled teen, Trevor Adams (Ben Foster, "Get Over It").

He's a smart kid, but he feels beaten down by the abuse he receives from more popular kids at school. Wearing a black trench coat, similar to the garb of the killers at Columbine High School, Trevor returns to school after a suspension the previous spring for a bomb threat against the football team.

A self-described pariah, Trevor inspires fear in his math teacher (Janel Moloney, "The West Wing"), but drama teacher Val Duncan (Tom Cavanagh) sees a kid crying for help. He enlists Trevor in the school production of "Bang Bang," which appeals to the boy's intellect and artistry. (Trevor makes movies using a video camera and home computer.)

The play is a positive outlet that also introduces Trevor to a new girl in school, Jenny (Jane McGregor), who sees Trevor's intelligence. He tries to help her understand his point of view, particularly what it feels like to be depressed.

"I don't mean depressed like your dog died," Taylor says. "I mean where you feel you've got nothing to lose, where you don't care if you live or die. That kind of depressed."

Continued abuse by the jocks also leads Trevor to hang out with his fellow "trogs" (short for troglodytes), including Sean (Randy Harrison, "Queer as Folk"), who stashes guns in a shack in the woods.

There's an element of "Afterschool Special" in "Bang Bang," but it's much harsher and more realistic than most of those old chestnuts. The jocks vs. trogs debate is believable, and the film doesn't completely indict the jocks, but it needs more of their point of view. Trevor says bullies "get off on watching you fight back your tears," but "Bang Bang" doesn't get into the "Why?" of that as much as it could.

The story reaches an emotional crescendo when Trevor turns in a video project that features footage of a real gun, forcing his teacher to show it to the principal.

"A little push in front of other kids is a very big deal," Trevor says in his video. "Kids can be the most ruthless people in the world. They can be just supernaturally cruel."

Showtime has created a special Web site to accompany the film (www.sho.com/bbyd). That site may be of interest to teens (it lists all the music heard in the movie, including "Angry, Young and Poor" by Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag) and teachers, who can download a study guide. Showtime will make tapes of the film available to teachers who write to the network on school letterhead. The original play can be downloaded from www.bangbangyouredead.com.

The performances in "Bang Bang" are uniformly good, but Foster is particularly impressive. His Trevor isn't just another sullen teen. Foster is able to convey the boy's pain and the conflict he feels between taking out his anger and frustration on others or simply causing harm to himself.

Cavanagh, too, acquits himself well as a concerned educator. After watching him play a nice guy on "Ed," it's difficult to imagine him ever playing an evil character, but he continues to discover different shades of "nice."

As much as "Bang Bang" is a film about and for teens, it may be more important for parents to see. As frustrated as their bullied children may be, parents can be just as scared because sometimes they don't know how to help their own kids.

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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