Genre: Drama and Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.
Release Date: September 27th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Herzfeld Actors: Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Teri Hatcher, James Spader, Charlize Theron, Eric Stoltz, Glenne Headly, Paul Mazursky, Marsha Mason, Keith Carradine, Louise Fletcher, Austin Pendleton, Greg Cruttwell
ate at night, washed-up fixer Dosmo Pizzo (Danny Aiello) and tight-lipped assassin Lee Woods (James Spader) sit in a car on a hill overlooking the Californian home of Becky Foxx (Teri Hatcher), who is having an argument with her ex-husband Roy (Peter Horton). The mysterious men’s audio surveillance ends when the couple eventually go to sleep, segueing into the two breaking into the house, cutting the telephone cord, and preparing a syringe. “You have one minute to decide the rest of your life.”
Meanwhile, former Emmy winner and current unemployed director Teddy Peppers (Paul Mazursky) prepares to finally leave his apartment after failing to pay rent to his landlord, Evelyn (Louise Fletcher), for the last four months. Though he contemplates suicide over his many social and career shortcomings, he decides to take his dog for a walk instead, where he runs into an insulting former associate (Austin Pendleton). Meanwhile, as Pizzo and Woods interrogate Roy over his recent trip to Norway, contacts with North Koreans, and a dead woman named Helga Svelgen (Charlize Theron), a very wealthy, short-tempered art dealer (Greg Cruttwell) has a heated phone conversation with his secretary Susan Parish (Glenne Headly) – before he pulls to the curb, doubles over in pain in the middle of the street, and gets literally picked up by a random onlooker and dumped into a stolen car.
These seemingly unrelated storylines aren’t even the only ones that will eventually converge: Van Nuys Vice police officer Wes Taylor (Eric Stoltz) is introduced receiving a massage before meeting up with his racist partner Alvin (Jeff Daniels); a double-cross goes awry; and Helga makes an unexpected return. Although many of the events are tinged with humor, they’re fairly slow-moving; it takes a considerable amount of time before they start coming together. Clues are sparse, stringing the audience along, though even when revelations arise, they’re not terribly amusing. The humor remains dry but persistent, yet it doesn’t help to make the criss-crossing scenarios feel any more interesting.
One of the biggest detriments is the lack of likable characters. As the film progresses, couples find unexpected love interests or romances evolving; there’s a strange preoccupation with romantic pairings and flirtation, as if the point is that even in harrowing circumstances, companionship is the priority. Yet even with varying love stories, pity and sympathy come more easily than admiration or respect; the personas are all largely disagreeable, which transitions into sloppiness and, most unforgivably, unconvincing actions and reactions.
Conspiracies complicate the plot, but it’s not long before the premise crawls yet again. Too many of the groups are watery and tedious. As the crimes crumble and spiral out of control – some more comically than others – it’s evident that not only are there extraneous roles, the script doesn’t quite know what to do with the more essential ones. By the time the parties finally meet up for a chaotic showdown, amusement has all but disappeared, leaving the conclusion, no matter how resolute, mostly devoid of the satisfaction that should have been easily won in a case of careless crooks, crooked cops, and hapless heroines.
– Mike Massie