By Frank Scheck
This new indie drama, written, produced and directed by Walter Foote, is about a couple of regular guys who, through sheer ambition and drive rather than any particular talent, decide to open a restaurant, only to discover that the hurdles are nearly insurmountable.
It thus practically serves as a metaphor for the indie film scene, where multitudes of budding filmmakers desperately struggle to finance and make their movies, only to see most of them fail in a hopelessly crowded and competitive marketplace. "The Tavern", as well-intentioned and decently made as it is, is not likely to buck that trend.
The film centers on Ronnie (Cameron Dye), a recovered alcoholic turned bartender who, in the best tradition of the American male, has resisted commitment of any kind his entire life, and his best friend Dave (Kevin Geer), himself struggling with a low-level job and a family to support. When the owner of a popular Manhattan tavern announces that he's packing it in and moving to Florida, Ronnie is tempted by the reasonable asking price and decides to buy the place.
After the wary but desperate Dave signs on as a partner, the pair, with much difficulty, raise the money, despite the opposition and suspicion of friends and family. The primary contributors are Jerry (Steven Marcus), Ronnie's former boss, and Gina (Nancy Ticotin), his widowed sister- in-law, who invests with the provision that Ronnie employ her troubled 14-year-old son (Carlo Alban).
After opening the joint, more problems present themselves: The former owner opens a competing restaurant nearby; their talented chef is snatched by the immigration authorities; the tavern is closed down by the police for offering music and dancing without the proper license; and the bookmakers to whom Ronnie has turned for some quick cash are starting to make threats.
The film is overstuffed with more subplots than it can comfortably handle. Some of them, such as Ronnie's budding romance with a more sophisticated young woman he meets at a fancy boutique, or his attempt to mentor his troubled young nephew, never really pick up narrative steam. Subtlety of characterization is sacrificed as well, most notably in the character of Dave's increasingly frustrated wife (Margaret Cho), who comes across as little more than shrewish.
On the other hand, there are individual scenes that resonate with authenticity and poignancy. Anyone who has ever been stuck in a menial job will wince at the scene in which Dave, working at a megastore, has to confront a belligerent customer. And the endless small details involved in trying to start a restaurant are rendered with a vivid reality. No wonder; the press notes inform us the filmmaker himself failed in an attempt to open a restaurant.
There is a thankful lack of sentimentality in the proceedings, and the downbeat ending is a refreshing tonic in an indie cinema scene that has lately ("Girlfight", "Two Family House") seemed to be bursting with Capraesque sensibilities. The acting is quite fine, with the two leads particularly moving as the embattled entrepreneurs. As a bonus, Irish group the Saw Doctors add some rollicking music to the soundtrack.
Castle Hill Films
Credits: Director-editor-producer: Walter Foote; Executive producers: James Cooper, Lin Chen Tien; Co-producer: Rene Veilleux; Director of photography: Kurt Lennig; Editor: Josh Apter; Original music: Bill Lacey, Loren Toolajian; Production designer: Gonzalo Cordoba. Cast: Ronnie: Cameron Dye; Dave: Kevin Geer; Carol: Margaret Cho; Tommy: Carlo Alban; Gina: Nancy Ticotin; Sharon: Kym Austin. No MPAA rating. Running time - 88 minutes. Color/stereo.