Old Dogs is a short film that truly leaves an audience wanting more.
What do you suppose would happen if three old-timers inadvertently found themselves owners of a satchel of heroin discovered in the men's room of a bowling alley? What may seem an unlikely premise for an abbreviated comic thriller soon plays out in unexpectedly and delightfully clever ways.
We've seen similar versions of this tale mixing old guys with crime; Martin Best's Going In Style with George Burns is a good example. Old Dogs, however, is no mere gimmick or retread of old ideas. It's a homegrown celebration of a genre.
The film's recipe for homage is affectionate. Director Jonathan Fahn and co-writer (and brother) Tom Fahn, have been schooled on a diet of shoot'em ups on the small and large screen. With a dash of Martin Scorcese, a pinch of Quinn Martin, and a healthy dose of caper film complexity ala Donald E. Westlake (The Hot Rock, Cops and Robbers, The Bank Shot), Old Dogs succeeds in its efficient handling of dark humor without a trace of amateurish confusion. With a running time just under 14 minutes, the concise story unfolds effortlessly. No plot holes abound as we follow the inept but fearless senior citizen drug-runners through nighttime Los Angeles, where comic bantering amid violence lurk around every dingy corner.
Fahn has gathered a thankfully under-exposed cast of skilled character actors to breathe life into his trio of greedy retirees. His off the path casting choices are savvy. Each actor brings a distinctly fresh personality and quirky set of mannerisms to a story that easily could have slipped into a cardboard thin parody. This swell group of veteran actors etch lovely portraits of old age tinged with a reckless desire to stake a claim in adrenaline-fueled danger.
John Saxon, steel-eyed handsome and tough, smoothly reminiscent of Sean Connery, is Paul, self- proclaimed leader of the rag-tag group, Larry Gelman is Mel, a nut-job, the sweetly foolish wisecracking sidekick along the lines of a scrappy Mel Brooks, and Basil Hoffman is Zeke, the hangdog sad sack questioning every impulsive decision with requisite whiny disgust. Like no other actor I can compare, Hoffman, with his moony eyes, conveys layers of emotion even more than with his very funny dialogue.
The Brothers Fahn have a knack for lean storytelling, allowing the camera to be a curious onlooker to their low rent crime world, where a soft spoken drug kingpin, played by Phil Lamarr, chooses to conduct his meetings in a shabby diner after hours. Working with cinematographer Neil Lisk, Fahn allows us to peer from unusual angles onto these squabbling thieves and sullen drug lords, creating a satisfying visual counterpoint to the brittle and sarcastic dialogue.
Mention must also be made of Joel Alpers, whose indelible musical score infuses the film with a particular brassy funk of the seventies; a soundtrack representing a youthful time when Paul, Mel and Zeke had more swagger than limp in their step.
Old Dogs is rare among short films. It truly leaves an audience wanting more. After playing the short film festival circuit, it will hopefully get the attention it deserves and follow its destined cinematic path to full-length feature. I will hold a good thought this unique cast remains inseparable.
William McNeil ACEFEST/NYC-Tribeca July 2009.
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