VERY MEAN MEN
With Charles Durning, Ben Gazzara, Martin Landau, Matthew Modine, Burt Young, directed by Tony Vitale. An action comedy about a bartender who concocts a story about two crime families who start a turf war after one boss eats at the other's restaurant and steals a tip. IMDB.
The funniest crime caper to come down the pike since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, this inventive, occasionally gritty spoof wears its post-Tarantino influences proudly, managing to affectionately lampoon everything from vintage Scorsese to The Usual Suspects along its genially bloody way. Given the spin appropriate to its too-hip-to-live cast, Very Mean Men could prove very kind to the right distributor.
Sometimes a tip can save lives, and other times -- well, a bartender sees things differently. At least the clean-cut barkeep played by Matthew Modine does, especially when he pegs a would-be tough guy (Martin Landau) as a cheap drinker. To keep the small change coming, the barman spins a tale of warring mob clans who peacefully divide up the spoils of San Fernando Valley until family honor and cheapskate behavior send them over the edge.
The Minettis are led by mellow Gino (Ben Gazzara), whose ruthlessness has softened somewhat with age. He's inclined to set things right when Big Paddy Mulroney (Charles Durning) complains that Gino's boys are muscling in on his side of the Valley. Trouble is, Gino's son, Paulie -- played in a career-reviving turn by Scott Baio, with hair dyed blond and sporting a white goatee -- is a hothead who hands the Irish clan some moolah but then stiffs Paddy's waitress daughter (Leigh-Allen Baker) when his crew has a lousy lunch at Mulroney's diner.
Ethnic insults start flying, then bullets, and soon both groups are living for revenge. The families consist of fairly one-note characters: On the Irish side, "Coastal" Eddie (Paul Gunning) makes his moves according to the weather, and "Smiley" O'Doul (scripter Paul T. Murray) is always on the verge of tears; the Italians must live with Dante (Billy Drago), who takes everything literally, and Jimmy D (standout Paul Ben-Victor), who thinks he's Robert De Niro on Viagra. Louise Fletcher doesn't have quite enough to do as Paddy's wife, who takes over when things turn ugly.
It's thin stuff, but helmer Tony Vitale (best known for Kiss Me, Guido) knows how to use these cardboard characters for smart comic effect, playing them against the more substantial creations played by Durning, Gazzara and, especially, Burt Young as Dominic, Gino's cool-headed majordomo -- a veteran gangster who collects bullet wounds like others save stamps. On a dash of inside humor, Dominic loses his cool only when a Hollywood agent comes into his boss's Italian joint.)
The filmmakers have given themselves a solid out when it comes to narrative limits: Modine's bartender is making things up as he goes along, and he retailors the tale whenever Landau's character interrupts him. Thanks to zippy wipes, wild camera moves, funny shock cuts and other montage devices (clipper Gregory Hobson won an editing prize in Seattle), the elements are blended in ceaselessly entertaining fashion.
Dialogue ranges from pleasantly derivative to wackily inspired. Dominic has a tendency to comment on other people's grammar: "Whoa! Back-to-back compound adjectives." Edgy music, kitschy, sun-soaked SoCal locations and a lot of squished animals (fake ones) help move along the proceedings briskly -- no "Mean" feat, given the general tiredness of the genre.
A Giants Entertainment presentation of a Baio/White production. Produced by David Dadon, Steven Baio, Neil P. White. Executive producers, Lydia Dadon, Anthony Cataldo. Directed by Tony Vitale. Screenplay, Paul T. Murray. Camera (color), Alex Vendler; editor, Gregory Hobson; music, Ennio Di Berardo; production designer, Ladislav Wilhelm; costume designer, Ann Lambert; sound designer, Clive Taylor; associate producer, Scott Baio; assistant director, Phillip Christon; casting, Cathy Henderson, Dori Zuckerman. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 10, 2000. Running time: 93 min. With: Paul T. Murray, Leigh-Allen Baker, Paul Gunning, Steven Frejek, David Deblinger, Brent Bush, Rebecca Dessertine, Joe Lara, Charles Napier, Lana Parilla, Stefan Marchand, Michele Jaco, Taili Song, Kelly Derrick, Tony Vitale.
Copyright 2000 Cahners Publishing Company. From Variety, June 19, 2000 (v379 i5 p30).
FILM BIZ GETS FRENCH TWIST
By LIZA FOREMAN, DANA HARRIS, CHARLES LYONS, & JILL GOLDSMITH
CANNES -- Sony Pictures Classics' Michael Barker proclaimed it the worst Cannes market in 20 years. But Rainer Koelmel from German Kinowelt was so busy signing mucho-marks deals that he sometimes found himself in the middle of two meetings at once.
Each year, pundits try to sum up the Cannes fest and market: boom or bust? The fact is, it's always both.
This year's event, which ran May 10-21, reached a few conclusions: The strong U.S. dollar hindered a lot of deals, Germans are the new darlings of the international distribution set, and Cannes will always embrace hype (many on the Croisette were buzzing about U.S. newcomer Giant Films, which spent a lot of bucks to announce its first slate).
Oh, and one other thing: The hefty Internet presence, though highly publicized, was a qualified success, to put it kindly.
Giants Entertainment brought a whopping 17 titles to Cannes. A few days before the festival's wrap, David Dadon -- the mysterious Israeli producer who blanketed the Croisette with posters and took out pages and pages of advertising for an army of theatrical projects -- says he had sold off just over $7 million worth of foreign rights, including a $1.7 million Japanese deal for Very Mean Men.
Dadon has worked with Avi Lerner's Nu Image, with Miracle Entertainment and, for a time, had a company with Menahem Golan called Golan/Dadon Impact Pictures Intl.
But, he was weary of being stiffed of credit, respect and, on occasion, cash, all from would-be buyers. He wanted his own banner and total control.
Dadon says he launched Giants with $100 million of his own money. "I'd like to do three pictures a month, get to 50 pictures and then I'm going public," Dadon says. He plans to acquire Internet companies and film libraries along the way.
It's helpful to his grand plans, he says, that he "can call any star at home."
More than stars, he needs staff, which currently consists of himself and his wife and producing partner, Lydia. He's ejected the sales agents he hired to represent the company in Cannes this year: "I hired four people to come two months ago. I fired them."
As a result, he's been taking at least 30 meetings a day at Cannes by his reckoning.
"I like it. I'm good at marketing. It's what I did in the clothing business." Dadon, who used to own Steel Sportswear, says that biz (which he says he sold for seven figures) and other side investments helped him create the wealth that lets him finance pics on his own.
Dadon calls Very Mean Men, with Matthew Modine, Martin Landau, Ben Gazzara and Louise Fletcher, "the best movie I ever made" and says he fully expects an Oscar nomination. The others, which run the gamut from drug lords to kung-fu kids to cops to Renaissance princes to ancient curses, "are just money makers."
Dadon insists the whole lot will be ready for the London Screenings and Mifed this fall.
Dadon says he won't spend more than $15 million per pic for now, but plans to work up to bigger and bigger projects.
Far from the Croisette, Dadon has built studios on private property -- his own and that of friends -- in a town he declined to name somewhere near Bakersfield, Calif. The mayor and chief of police are his pals and help him out, if, say, he needs police cars for a shoot.
Pressed on the location, he says, "I'm trying to keep a low profile."
Copyright 2000 Cahners Publishing Company.