Made by a group of people whom, one fears, believed their story could help change the world, this silly Christian drama depicts a saintly layperson whose goodness and perseverance transform various hard-luck cases in a gang-ridden section of New York City. Pat Boone, the Bible-thumping crooner who achieved fame with his clean-cut movies and songs in the ’50s, plays David Wilkerson, a Midwestern do-gooder whose parish takes up a collection to pay his way to the Big Apple so he can intervene on behalf of street kids caught up in gang violence. Absurdly naïve and square, David zeroes in on Nicky Cruz (Erik Estrada), the hot-tempered boss of a Latino gang, as well as Nicky’s troubled squeeze, Rosa (Jacqueline Giroux). David presents himself to these two and their cohorts, repeatedly delivering the message that, “Someone loves you, and his name is Jesus Christ.” Nicky responds by brandishing a switchblade and threatening to cut David unless he goes away. Instead, Our Intrepid Hero finds a place to stay with local Christians, and then spends day after day giving street-corner sermons and offering comfort to gang members who come to him about various crises. Meanwhile, a turf war brews between Nicky’s crew and an African-American gang. As he tries to defuse this explosive situation, David somehow manages to persuade Rosa to give up both heroin and prostitution, so the example of her “salvation” changes Nicky’s mind. In the movie’s goofy climax, David stages a revival meeting and invites the warring gangs to attend, but before the event devolves into a bloodbath, Nicky announces that he’s found Jesus and wishes to renounce violence. (During Nicky’s epiphany, special effects depict a luminous cross appearing over Boone’s head, and background singers coo the words, “God loves Nicky Cruz!”) The leader of the black gang says volumes by watching this spectacle and then announcing, “Wow, man, I really don’t dig this scene tonight at all.” Sensible viewers will have the same reaction to The Cross and the Switchblade, which combines amateurish acting, ham-fisted writing, and perfunctory direction into nearly two hours of drab sermonizing inspired by the experiences of the real-life Wilkerson.
The Cross and the Switchblade: LAME