Although it would be great to see Chazz Palminteri break out of the usual tough guy roles and Robert Davi break through into a successful career of writing and directing, this is not the film that does either. Decent viewing for the family but neither the highs nor lows that make a great film
Oscar Nominated Chazz Palminteri and director, writer, producer and actor Peter Bogdanovich join actor and breakthrough writer/director Robert Davi in this story of Doo Wop performers turned criminal wanna-bees. George and Danny are members of a Doo Wop group that has seen time and fashion pass them by. As they struggle to maintain a presence in the modern world of MTV they work in a restaurant during the day and take work where they can get. But their options are dwindling and they turn to a life of crime. Sort of.
Facing the dissolution of his relationship with his son (Dominic Scott Kay—Young Artist Award winner for “Charlotte’s Web”) George (Palminteri) needs a break. He needs money for his son’s dental work and even more he needs to be a role model for his son; the role model of a winner, not a show-biz has-been. Manager Lou (Peter Bogdanovich—writer/director “The Last Picture Show”) is not much help as he pitches losing venue after losing venue to the group. The gig as the singing tomatoes is the last straw, something has to give.
What gives is a huge shipment of gold headed for a lightly guarded dental lab. The band members pull a couple of pals out of the woodwork and take safe cracking 101. The heist is on. Marshalling more moxie than machismo the group of semi-professional burglars bumbles their way to a wealth of self-realization when they find out that what they really wanted was knocking at their door all the time.
The film is a good hearted attempt at a crime comedy, but falls a few notes short of a complete song. Billed as a paean to Doo Wop, the movie has only a limited selection of the great songs that filled the ‘50s. Possibly due to the expense of getting film rights for the really great stuff the audience is only treated to snippets of the real music until the final scene when the group finally breaks lose. Originally trained as an opera singer, Davi does his bit in fine style, but it is too little, too late. “American Graffiti” this ain’t.
Award winning cinematographer Michael Goi does his part to spice things up with shimmering night shots and some creative pans and spiraling sequences that open up the screen. The scene is the gritty inner city with a film noir feel that suits the three lead actors but in the end the screenwriting and directing are not up to the task at hand. The audience has to force too many laughs and the punch lines are delivered almost entirely without punch.
When Aunt Vee (Miriam Margolyes) suffers a stroke and the guys have to take over the restaurant the plot seems to be gaining momentum. But the set-backs that ensue are not delivered with the power it takes to bring the film over the finish line at full speed.
Chazz Palminteri is asked to forego his usual tough guy persona (see him in “Yonkers Joe” if you get the chance) and play a normal Joe the Plumber type who is mostly interested in wooing over-weight women. This could have been a great opportunity for him to resist being typecast and do something that demonstrates the dynamics of his acting skill. But this was not the time and place for that to happen. Hopefully he will get another chance.
Also, it would be great to see Robert Davi get another crack at directing and writing, but it might be best for him to try one at a time. If he had great material and could concentrate on directing the outcome might be much more productive than “The Dukes.” Of course money talks and there’s no money without the first hit film. With a bigger budget this film could have been filled with the kind of music that would have kept things moving. Let’s look out for bigger and better things from both Davi and Palminteri in the future.
Release: November 14, 2008
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for brief sexuality and drug references
Running Time: 96 minutes