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"Style is the answer to everything," intones skid row poet Charles Serking, played by the suitably grizzled and worn Ben Gazarra, to his somnambulistic audience. Serking is, of course, a not-at-all veiled stand-in for beat legend Charles Bukowksi, whose autobiographical short stories were the basis for this film. But Serking, in many ways, comes off more like a gin-soaked fantasy of a skid row Hemingway whose sports of choice are alcohol, women, and sex. Behind the salt-and-pepper beard and rummy eyes lies an actor too poised to allow himself to fully sink into the alcoholic sloppiness that Mickey Rourke so easily brought to the screen in the less pretentious and more concise Barfly, which Bukowski himself scripted. But if Italian-born director Marco Ferreri stumbles over the self-conscious dialogue, he's right at home capturing the seedy atmosphere of dim, run-down apartments and underlit bars in the real Hollywood Serking calls home. When Serking's fling with the stunning, self-mutilating Italian hooker Cass (Ornella Muti, who puts her oversized safety pin to some rather startling uses) becomes too emotional, he takes the anonymous safety of the streets--crashing in a flophouse, passing around a bottle with a listless knot of derelicts. Serking melds right in with the littered streets and lost souls, a real man of the people. Suddenly you see it: he's got style.

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