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When the New York journalist Jake Bridges catches his girlfriend with another guy, he goes to Atlantic City to drink himself to oblivion. He is saved from a bar brawl by a small-time mobster Frankie, and Jake falls in love with Frankie's girlfriend Melissa. Jake soon also joins Frankie in his money-collecting duties. Written by
[observing a guy putting a woman down]
Hey, buddy, it's getting a little hot, why don't you go outside and get some air?
Guy at bar:
Why don't YOU go outside and get some air?
[taken away forcefully by Frankie]
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Most of the other comments here are right on the money so I will try not to repeat them. Michael Wincott's performance here is the chief reason to rent or buy this low budget indie flick -- he's amazing in what apparently is his only full length role after years of doing small supporting parts mostly playing psycho serial killers. Here he is very moving in a complex role as a soft-hearted Mafia wiseguy with a penchant for saving people. It's a neat idea that takes your initial stereotyped reaction to his appearance and deep gravelly voice -- that he is going to be yet another psychotic killer -- and spins it in the other direction. By the end of the movie, it's his character you are concerned about and not the "hero". While the film is otherwise pretty forgettable, I couldn't get this performance out of my mind after seeing it this summer. Prior to this, I had never noticed this actor before (but then I had never seen The Crow or any of his other notable films).
Unfortunately, the film is otherwise badly flawed, suffering from a genuinely awful script fillled with lines that are absolute howlers, corny situations and the other leads (William Petersen of CSI and Diane Lane from Unfaithful) are just unbelievably bad in this. They are otherwise respected performers, so I am not sure if the bad script or bad direction threw them off or what. Petersen in particular is actually embarrassing. He is very badly miscast, at least a decade too old for the character of Jake (the down and out writer) and his performance is full of annoying mannerisms. He makes us dislike Jake, who is the protagonist and narrator, and that throws the whole dramatic structure of the film off-kilter. Diane Lane is so affectless and flat that she is barely engaged with the story at all. (Needless to say, when either of them has a scene with Wincott, they are simply blown off the screen by his intensity and professionalism.)
The script feels like it was written by a Hollywood type who has never himself A.) visited Atlantic City or even the east coast, and B.) never known anyone in the "underworld". But who is definitely a "writer" and has a sentimental and glamourized vision of how important THAT is. For example, the idea that a woman would automatically find an unemployed writer more attractive and stable than her wiseguy boyfriend, i.e., that it would be NO CONTEST and she would immediately cheat on the boyfriend. No one I know of holds unemployed writers in this kind of esteem (with good reason). I might add that there is NO particular reason to believe that a writer would make any more money, or offer a woman any more opportunities, or even be more trustworthy, than a wiseguy either.
Another good laugh and complete absence from reality is the idea that a nurse (Diane Lane)...an RN in a hospital...would be poor and uneducated and without any chances in life. The reality: RNs have to have 4 yr college degrees, it's a serious and meaningful profession. RNs earn at least $45,000 right out school, more with experience, and the long nationwide nursing shortage means they can pretty much pick and choose working anywhere they WANT. I might add, no nurse I have ever known goes to work with her uniform unbuttoned down to "there" and wearing HIGH HEELS. It would have worked way better for the script if Ms. Lane's character were a part-time waitress or casino worker.
The absolute worst and most embarassing part of the movie is the idea that Frankie (Wincott) wants Jake (Petersen) to educate him about literature...starting with Melville's Moby Dick. It's an unfortunate choice of book...you'd think the screenwriter would have chosen a book that somehow relates to the story or characters (another reviewer here mentions Dicken's Tale of Two Cities, which would have worked much better). Why does Frankie want or need this anyhow?
Doesn't Atlantic City have a public library? Hasn't he heard of bookstores, the Internet, Amazon.com or Cliff's Notes? At any rate, the characters never progress beyond Moby Dick, kind of like being stuck in the first week of freshman literature in the Twilight Zone. Worst of all, re-reading the book with Frankie compells Jake to SING a sea chanty, probably the most grating moment in the film.
At the time this film was made (1998), all three actors were pretty much minor leaguers despite long resumes. Today (2003) Petersen has the lead in the No.1 TV series CSI, and Diane Lane is a major film star with an Academy Award nomination for Unfaithful and new film Under the Tuscan Sun...while Michael Wincott is still basically doing cameos as psycho killers. If this isn't total injustice, than I don't know what is. Anyways, rent this video for his performance and fast forward through the bad parts.
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