The seedy side of 1980s Detroit during the height of the crack epidemic sets the scene for “White Boy Rick,” a mildly successful film based on the true story of a blue collar, not-quite-legal gun salesman Richard Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) and his teenage son Rick (Richie Merritt). Rick Jr. became an undercover police officer and later an FBI-trained drug dealer who was sold out by the cops and sentenced to life in prison.
The story isn’t that great and the characters are far from deserving much compassion. Director Yann Demange takes his time with the storytelling but then picks up the pace so rapidly that you can’t help but feel that large chunks of the story are missing. I didn’t find Rick to be very sympathetic at all, which in turn hurt the story even more. In what could’ve been a blistering commentary about the connection of poverty and crime (check out the phenomenal “Blindspotting” for a film that nails this aspect), the film instead nearly nosedives into a forgettably weak entry into the crowded crime drama genre.
Even with McConaughey doing what he does best, this film can’t quite overcome its mediocrity. The story lags while stumbling over roadblocks full of missed opportunities. The casting is on point (with an especially effective supporting turn from Bel Powley as a drug addict), but this doesn’t even come close to being a breakout performance from newcomer Merritt as the title character. It’s unfortunately clear in several of the more challenging scenes that he is indeed acting, making it even easier for McConaughey to slide right in and steal the spotlight with his strong onscreen presence.
“White Boy Rick” lacks the emotional punch that would’ve made this one a must-see for fans of crime stories.