Homeboy: Mickey Rourke’s First Role As A “Broken Down Piece of Meat”

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos - It’s the line of the year: “I’m an old, broken down piece of meat.”

In “The Wrestler”, 2009 Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor, Mickey Rourke plays an over the hill, down and out wrestler looking for one more break in the sport he loves, the sport he lives, the sport that is him—professional wrestling. Twenty years ago, Rourke wrote and starred in “Homeboy”, another film about an old, broken down piece of meat, this time a boxer named Johnny Walker, a tobacco-chewing, whiskey-drinking journeyman that knows nothing in life except how to fight..

Homeboy’s opening scene shows Walker’s hung up boxing gloves, trophies, and him taking tape off his ribs, putting on ripped jeans and worn out cowboy boots and his signature white cowboy hat before getting on a bus for a scheduled fight. Upon reaching his destination he goes to a bar, drinks, dances, gambles, and smiles a sad smile. He’s a cowboy whose guns are his fists and whose shootouts take place in the ring.

Aging and slow to pull the trigger, Johnny Walker fights like Floyd Mayweather, his left hand down and his chin protected by his shoulder. The first fight in the film takes place after Walker is picked up form the bar and has him knocking out Rosco, played by former champ Iran Barkley. It’s a rough fight: Walker stumbles around the ring, has blurred vision, is knocked down twice and has his mouthpiece knocked out of his mouth. Walker might hold his hands like Mayweather, but he has nowhere near the skills as does “Pretty Boy Floyd”.

What Walker lacks in skill he makes up for in dirty tactics: low blows, headlocks, rabbit punches, and spinning his opponent. “Any more crap out of you and you ain’t getting paid,” warns the referee. Walker comes out for the third round with a straight right that puts Rosco on his back for the count. Not bad for walking into the ring straight off the bar stool.

Walker is noticed by Wesley Pendergass, (played by Christopher Walken), a smooth-talking, low time, convicted hustler who wears silk suits and sees Rourke as his money ticket. (“You can make a lot of money with a white fighter,” states Walker’s co-trainer later in the film.)

“I love the way you fight, John. I never saw anybody fight like that…I like you,” says Pendergass. Gaining Walker’s trust by taking him to dinner and showing him around town, Walker tells Pendergass, “I’ll do anything for you, Wesley.’

As with most fighters there is a woman standing behind them. Walker is no different. He falls in love with Ruby, a pony girl at the local carnival played by 1980’s star Debra Feuer. Walker stops a couple of young toughs from hassling her and his interest is sparked. “I never been with a real nice good woman” and “Ruby is a good one,” says Walker.

Walker’s second fight sees him get robbed. The ring announcer, played by Michael Buffer, declares the fight a draw - igniting boos from the crowd who know Walker deserved the win. His third fight is a bloody mess that sees him cut, bruised, and stay down for the count; a wise move; one of the few he makes throughout the film.

Walker’s final chance as a fighter comes via being a last minute replacement in a fight with a young, fast, talented, and undefeated fighter named Cotten. It’s a tune up before Cotten gets a title shot. Bill Slayton is brought in to help Walker for the fight. Training scenes show hard ab work, pad routines, sound instruction from the legendary trainer, and a slow Walker throwing combinations and improving scene by scene.

“Why you training him so hard?” asks Pendergass of Bill. “He doesn,’t know the difference between a left hook and roadwork,” says Pendergass, showing how much he cares for Walker.

A very sad and honest scene follows. Minutes before the big fight, with tears in his eyes, Walker looks up to Bill and says, “I wish I ran into you a long time ago. Maybe things could have been good, man.” He then asks, “Hey Bill, you think I coulda been good?” No answer follows as Bill looks off to the side, hurting Walker more than any punch, any defeat.

In “The Wrestler”, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, played by Rourke tells his love interest Cassidy, played by Marissa Tomei, “the only place I hurt is out there”; meaning anywhere but the ring. Living legend Johnny Tapia has said the same on many occasions. “Homeboy” is no different.

A method actor, Rourke, like his characters Randy “The Ram” Robinson and Johnny Walker, used meds, alcohol, and worse to soften the pain that comes from in and out of what many fighters describe is a metaphor for life—the ring.

Rourke has more in common with Walker and Robinson than any role he’s played. Rourke went after his dream of being a pro fighter and retired undefeated after sound advice from his doctor.

In “Homeboy” Dr. Ortiz says of Walker, “he should have stopped fighting years ago.” Walker has been fighting with a fracture of the templar bone. Ortiz says, “The next time someone hits this guy in the head, he could drop dead.” In real life, Rourke failed three neurological exams at the end of his fight career. He describes his doctor saying, “Brother, you won’t even be able to count…if you have one more hit in the head.”

Similar to “The Wrestler”, Rourke was also down and out up until getting this recent part of Randy “The Ram” Robinson. He lived in a trailer similar to that of Robinson and worked construction and odd jobs.

Watching both films you wonder how something filmed twenty years ago and something filmed now could resemble so much the starring actor’s life.

“Homeboy” is not Rourke’s best film or his worst. You never find out why it is called Homeboy; the title gives off a gangster image, that of a ghetto fighter, not some drunken cowboy. The film also plays on the stereotype of the fighter who is too trusting, naive, used by a sleazy promoter and on his last legs. It’s a sensationalized reality that is played out.

Homeboy is fun for fight junkies to watch. It’s about boxing. Its main character never gives up. There are cameos by some of boxing’s loved people: Michael Buffer, Ex champ Iran Barkley, referee Marty Denkin, Larry Hazard Sr., Lenny Mancini, and respected trainer Bill Slayton. Boxer’s Buster Drayton, Jimmy Dupree, Angel Sindo, and Mathew Lewis are also in the film. There’s even scenes with a very young and then unknown Stephen Baldwin and a starting out Ruben Blades. The Music is written and performed by Eric Clapton.

Homeboy is for those who root for the underdog, for those who empathize with an old broken down piece of meat.

Article posted on 30.01.2009

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