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Richie Merritt, left, and Matthew McConaughey star in White Boy Rick.Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures

  • White Boy Rick
  • Written by: Andy Weiss, Noah Miller, Logan Miller
  • Directed by: Yann Demange
  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley and Jennifer Jason Leigh
  • Classification: 14A/ 110 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

In the 1980s, Nancy Reagan’s naive lifestyle advice was to “just say no” to drugs. Some abided; some did not. White Boy Rick is the vivid, punchy new feature from Yann Demange, the director who dazzled with his gritty Belfast war story ’71 in 2014. Here he has the charismatic young actor Richie Merritt in the titular role in a true story: Ricky Wershe Jr. was a baby-faced rock-cocaine seller who dabbled in snitching and who successfully interloped in Detroit’s African-American urban decay. He’s all vernacular, wispy mustache and ethnically confused bling.

His father (played with solid mullet-haired commitment by Matthew McConaughey) is a small-time gun-runner with a heart of gold, barely holding his family together with streetwise advice and the VHS-era dream of owning a video store. Other characters (such as his sister, portrayed with harrowing authenticity by Bel Powley) are underdeveloped. It’s a working-class story, albeit one that doesn’t involve officially recognized "work,” which raises questions about police corruption and racially slanted drug policies. Speaking of questions, why is a white character being held up as a shining symbol of the black man’s plight? Something to consider. Otherwise, White Boy Rick has much to say yes to.

White Boy Rick opens Sept. 14

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