The Bad Brother
Anthony (Corin Nemec) is a good kid; he helps his mum Mary Anne (Michele Lee), plays the saxophone in a band and doesn't step out of line. Things could not be more different when it comes to his brother Johnny (Ricky Schroder) who after yet another run in with the law in L.A. calls up and asks if he can come home to Baltimore, something which Anthony is not overly happy about but if it makes his mum happy then so be it. And Mary Anne is over the moon to have Johnny back home, unable to see that her eldest boy is trouble, something Anthony knows too well as he has been bullied and abused by his older brother for years and now that he is back the beatings and abuse has started again. But this time there is more trouble as there are murders nearby and Johnny is being watched by the FBI.
True story, based on true events, inspired by a real story - those are all terms I am overly familiar with as you often find them associated with TV movies especially those from the 90s. The thing is that usually these terms end up more of a sales pitch, drawing in audiences with a promise of real life drama but often delivering an extremely fictionalized version of the truth. That brings me to "My Son Johnny" which is one of these true story movies and one which tackles the subject of sibling abuse, not something I can remember being covered in other movies.
It is the subject matter which makes "My Son Johnny" so interesting as we watch Anthony having to deal with the return of his brother Johnny and with it the teasing and bullying. As the youngest child in the family there is a surprising sense of realism to what is shown as we see Johnny picking on Anthony when no one is looking and then others telling Anthony to deal with it as it is part of growing up and so on. Of course there is much more to it than that as Johnny is a bad seed, a dangerous character but the way he bullies and intimidates Anthony for laughs is uncomfortably real as is the sense of anger which Corin Nemec gives Anthony.
But here is the thing about "My Son Johnny", it is a TV movie and as such ends up with some of the issues common to the genre. One of those is that it unnecessarily starts at point b in the movie with Mary Anne in the witness stand giving evidence before jumping back to an earlier point. It is unnecessary as it is a spoiler for those who watch unaware of the true story it is inspired by.
There is also the acting and characters with it ending up inconsistent as we have Michele Lee giving it the full works as an Italian mother, the sort you see rolling meatballs in her kitchen next to a huge pot of boiling sauce. But then we have Ricky Schroder trying to act all Goodfella like and coming off anything but. Plus there is Corin Nemec who seems to have none of the Italian blood in his character. These characters are too different to be believable as one family and it makes it often feel awkward for being so inconsistent.
What this all boils down to is that "My Son Johnny" certainly covers a more unique subject with its story about sibling abuse. But whilst based on a true story it is a typical made for TV production and has many of the issues you get from the TV movie genre when it comes to characters and acting.