Note: The version I saw is six minutes shorter than the unrated cut (spoilers in that link) which was only released in the UK. Thankfully, there's a special place in hell for proponents of film censorship.
I would have rather seen it in this aspect ratio
Wow. It's been a long time since I've seen a movie modified for 4:3. Especially one with such incompetent panning and scanning. Unfortunately, VHS is probably the only way you can see Sonny Boy, a weird little film that apparently never made the leap to disc or digital media. Pan and scan this terrible is like trying to watch a movie through a telescope, but someone else is holding it to your eye. It's a pain in the ass, but it's worth watching it this way until someone tracks down the rights and gives the film a proper release.
Sonny Boy opens on a secluded motel where a young couple are being spied on by a good-for-nothing desert thug named Weasel (Brad Dourif), who looks pretty much how you'd expect a guy named Weasel to look. Weasel murders the couple and takes off in their convertible, which he tries to sell to the local crime boss, Slue (Paul Smith, who played Bluto in Popeye). Slue is a grown-up bully who lives in a junkyard of stolen merchandise with his transvestite wife, Pearl (David Carradine, who also provides the theme song). As Slue and Weasel are negotiating the price of the stolen convertible, Pearl notices there's a baby boy in the backseat and she immediately adopts him as her own.
I know all this sounds horrific, but it's kind of sweet—perhaps bitterly so—in the surreal context of the film. The film makes no excuses for the way its characters behave, but it's clear this is the only way these people know how to raise a kid, a kid they clearly love and care about. You begin to wonder if the reason they lack a moral compass is the same reason Sonny Boy lacks one: perhaps they were raised like animals, too. Anyway, one day Sonny sees himself in the mirror for the first time, face covered with the blood of Slue's enemy, which inspires the boy-in-a-man's-body to begin the long, difficult process of deprogramming himself...
Or something like that.
Ultimately, that's what's most satisfying about Sonny Boy: its unexpected restraint. I probably would have liked it just as much if "the joke" was that you get to see the star of Kung Fu in a dress, but amazingly, it doesn't go there. Sure, there are people who get thoroughly blown up by artillery shells, but if you're looking for a raunchy exploitation film to show a drunk and rowdy crowd, Sonny Boy isn't the one. That doesn't mean it's not worth a watch on a hungover Sunday morning, though.