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From the film archives: 'Stand by Me' an emotional odyssey for boys

POSTED: June 26, 2014 1:00 a.m.
/Associated Press

Wil Wheaton, from left, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell and Corey Feldman star in the 1986 movie "Stand By Me."

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“You guys wanna go see a dead body?”

Everything is quiet as the attention of Verne’s three friends shift from their previously boisterous activities — smoking cigarettes and playing cards — to his proposition.

This may not sound like the beginning to a “coming of age” story, but “Stand By Me” is an enjoyable, if dark, tale of transitioning from childhood innocence to adulthood.

Based on the Stephen King novella “The Body,” the 1986 film tells the story of four 12-year-old boys from a small town in Oregon who set out to find the body of a local kid who had gone missing. During their journey, the group faces several challenges, including traversing a bridge with a train barreling down on them, facing an overweight junkyard tenant with a guard dog and climbing through a swamp brimming with leeches.

Shenanigans aside, the trip quickly becomes an emotional odyssey as the kids confront each of their own difficult life situations, most of which are your typical ’80s themes.

The quiet-but-creative Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton) lost his older brother in a car accident, and his parents routinely reject their living child to idolize the memory of the older.

Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) is the misunderstood troublemaker who came from a family of deadbeats.

Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) is left kooky and military-obsessed after being abused by his father, a World War II veteran who eventually gets committed to a mental hospital.

Rounding out the group is Verne Tessio (Jerry O’Connell), a heavyset kid who serves primarily as the group’s comic relief.

Underneath the profane wisecracks, dead bodies and repulsive humor, “Stand By Me” is mostly a typical story about growing up. The friends support each other through the hardships, and the movie is periodically interrupted with an appropriately emotional flashback scene. The film ends with a brief narration of how all of the friends drifted away from each other as they grew up, but they’ll never forget the journey they took together.

The directing can be heavy-handed at times, with plenty of knowing looks and sympathetic shoulder pats, but the acting usually makes up for it. Most of the actors are young children, but each of them live up to the legacies they earn later in their careers, often turning otherwise cheesy scenes into truly impactful ones.

Kiefer Sutherland, one of the older actors in the movie, also puts on an excellent performance. He plays the part of Ace Merrill, the psychotic leader of a gang of older boys who try to gain local glory by finding the missing boy’s body first.

Overall, “Stand By Me” is a thoroughly enjoyable movie even if it falls just short of a “classic.”

The film is available on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99-$6.99, depending on if you rent it or purchase it.

Andrew Akers is a columnist for The Times.

 


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