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In the Bronx, Joe, an Irish good guy, gets bad news twice the same day: he has a brain tumor and his wife wants a divorce, saying he's dull and lacks adventure. With her father's blessing, Joe takes off for adventures in the weeks before risky surgery. In Louisville, he's latched onto by Hush, a talkative belle with two kids, big debts to a nasty bookie, and few prospects. Even after she steals his wallet, Joe offers temporary help, bonds with her kids, and faces down the bookie. Soon Hush, Joe, and the kids are on the run toward Vegas. The bookie's on their tail, so are some Bronx bad guys, cancer lurks, Hush has her gambling jones, and the kids want stability. Can this work out? Written by
Though likable in many ways, `Beautiful Joe' is one of those maddeningly inconsistent movies in which the plot keeps getting in the way of the finer elements of the picture. Here we have a film that is far more effective in its moments of quiet contemplation than the moments in which it indulges in grand melodramatic gestures. The latter do not happen frequently enough to actually kill the picture, but you can't accuse them of not trying.
Writer/director Stephen Metcalfe has concocted a screenplay that is part romantic comedy, part `road movie' and part petty gangster picture. The mixture never really jells. The film focuses around a sweet, good-natured, hopelessly optimistic Irish immigrant so beloved in his heavily ethnic Bronx neighborhood that his neighbors have affectionately nicknamed him `Beautiful Joe.' One day Joe is informed by his doctor that he has a potentially life threatening brain tumor. Conveniently for purposes of the plot, Joe also happens to discover on that day (though everyone else seems to have long known it) that his slatternly wife has been cheating on him. This frees him up to load his van and set out in search of the adventure he never really experienced in his peaceful but humdrum existence. While in Kentucky, he meets `Hush' Mason, a down-on-her-luck gambler and exotic dancer with two children who also happens to be involved with a parcel of petty gangsters led by one `George the Geek' whose sadism emerges in his various dealings with Joe, Hush, her children and his own loyal henchmen.
`Beautiful Joe' is at its best when it concentrates on the quiet moments that occur between these two oddball people one a rock of stability, sanity and virtue in a cruel, chaotic world and the other a mess of insecurities, weaknesses and vulnerabilities who needs someone like Joe to help pull her out of that world. When Sharon Stone and Billy Connolly share screen time together (along with Jurnee Smollett and Dillon Moen who play her children), the film is believable and touching. However, Metcalfe seems unwilling to leave well enough alone because he has injected into the film a truly awful subplot involving a group of bumbling gangsters who manage to bring the film crashing down every time they appear in a scene. Luckily for us and for the film, they disappear through long stretches of the movie's running time, allowing time for us to concentrate on the individuals at the story's core. Even here, however, some of the plot details seem unnecessarily hokey and distracting, such as Hush's son's refusal to talk being overcome at the last minute an obvious device to squeeze as many tears out of the audience as is legally possible. Indeed, the whole final act overindulges itself on syrupy sentiment.
Connolly and Stone are both excellent in their roles, Connolly appearing strong, compassionate and virtuous all at the same time, while Stone displays just the right amount of feistiness and vulnerability to make her character ring true and likable.
A pity Metcalfe doesn't display the discipline of tone and plotting necessary to make this film a total triumph. But for the elements that are good in it and they are indeed manifold `Beautiful Joe' is a film that deserves to be seen and enjoyed.
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