1963, the night before the 18 years old "Birdlace" Eddie and his friends are shipped to Vietnam. They play a dirty game called 'Dogfight': all of them seek a woman for a party, and who finds the most ugly one, wins a prize.
This post-Idaho romantic comedy pairs possibly Hollywood's finest young leading man with Lili Taylor, last seen to good effect alongside one Julia Roberts in 1988's Mystic Pizza.
Given only a shockingly limited release in the US two theatres in all and zinging straight to video in the UK, Dogfight, if no modern classic, certainly deserves a wider audience than the handful of zealots singing its praises to date.
Phoenix is Edward Birdlace, the teenage marine on his last night in San Francisco before setting off to 'Nam, egged on by his army buddies to take part in the Dogfight, a local eve-of-war ritual involving picking up the worst-looking girl in town hence the rather offensive name and parading her in front of the gang.
Taylor, in one of the more hideous dresses in the movies, is Phoenix' choice, and is, not surprisingly, less than thrilled when she correctly divines what is going down.
What elevates this slight tale above the ordinary is a stunning performance from Taylor, investing her character with sensitivity and wit, while Phoenix yet again displays all the signs of a potential master at work. Savoca, last heard of on True Love, displays a sure touch, particularly in one wonderful wardrobe crisis scene that will strike a chord with all female viewers, turning this particular Dogfight into an interesting anecdote, and one that is well-told and well-performed.
Fans of the Say Anything/ Running On Empty school of drama could do a lot worse that give this one a go.