Here’s a small time crime picture for you, never got much attention as a child but grew up to be a pretty good movie. It starts out with Timothy Hutton stealing a car (very believable hotwire scene here with actual hammering of the dashboard, not just pulling some wires out) then going to pick up his partner for a job. They eventually get together their crew for a jewel heist, it consists of Timothy Hutton, his older brother Roy Egan (Harvey Keitel), Jorge (some guy I thought I recognized, but turns out he was only in a handful of movies before he died) and an obnoxious hotshot jackass named Skip, sort of a Stephen Dorff type (Stephen Dorff).
There is a pretty strong Richard Stark feel to this for a while as they prepare their heist. No funny stuff, no fancy talk, just straight business and some primal percussion type soundtrack shit to get your heart beating. Everything goes smooth actually until after the heist when this fucker Skip decides to shoot everybody, burn down the motor home and take off with the boodle. Fucking asshole! So the rest of the movie is about Roy trying to find and kill Skip, Skip trying to have Roy killed before he finds him. Very simple. That’s what I like.
One thing weird about this movie, the two main characters are named Roy and Skip. You don’t get that too often. Usually one would be John, then maybe the other one would have a fancy name like Esteban or Molochai or whatever, but not Roy and Skip. That’s pretty unusual.
I said earlier Skip was kind of a Stephen Dorff type. That’s because he’s kind of the same character, Deacon Frost, that this guy played in the classic Wesley Snipes picture BLADE. Deacon Frost was the young spikey haired showboat who thought he was better than all the other vampires, listened to lots of techno music and scared all the old timers with his young edgy mixed blood vampire methods. This is the same thing here, he thinks he’s hot shit, he plays loud, bad music while he’s driving and he stirs up trouble with all the pros like Roy and his crew. Also he has bleached blonde hair. This was 1997 though, one year before Blade, so Stephen Dorff didn’t know yet about how motherfuckers always trying to ice skate uphill.
I also said before this has kind of a Richard Stark feel, but you can’t quite say Roy is like Parker. Because there’s one part after his brother dies where he sits in a hotel room doing that patented Harvey Keitel crying that sounds like a dog freaking out from 4th of July fireworks. Running around shitting on the carpet and everything. Parker doesn’t get emotional like that. That’s for Keitel and Keitel only.
But otherwise it’s the same kind of deal because Roy is ruthlessly hunting this fuck down. And there’s even a scene like in The Hunter/Point Blank/Payback where he goes and finds a junkie passed out girlfriend, except it’s not his wife, it’s his brother’s girl. And he tells her very matter of factly that her man’s dead, just so he can ask her about Skip.
Also I gotta say he is very Parker-like in the scene where he goes to a bar and pretends to know Skip, ends up beating the bartender bloody with a telephone.
This has nothing to do with that, but there’s a funny part where he gets in a scuffle and he drops his hotel key, big plastic keychain and all. Then he apparently doesn’t notice and they use the key to track him. If I understand it right, he did this on purpose to lure them to a different room so he could take care of them. (I think.) But what’s funny is, the bad guys actually send some chumps to the room to try to kill him. Didn’t it occur to them hey, if we have his key, then maybe he’s not in there? Or does he carry two keys?
Oh well. It’s gritty and simple and paints an ugly grey picture of Los Angeles you don’t see too often. There’s some good moments, like a small part for Michael Jai White (guy who was cut out of Kill Bill). Also for Charlie’s Angels fans, they show Lucy Liu’s boobs. She was in Payback too, by the way, which brings us back to Richard Stark.
But where the movie strays a little from the Richard Stark feel, and also where it loses its momentum in my opinion, is when it brings Famke Jannsen into the story. She plays Jorge’s widow, who tries to help Roy find Skip, but only for money so she can put her kids through college. She does fine and she’s beautiful and all but I think her character was a mistake on the part of whoever wrote this thing (see imdb for details). Because everybody else in the story is completely a part of the underworld. They understand robbing and killing, that’s their thing. Those are the type of characters that are interesting, that’s why people enjoy crime stories. But her character is a straight person, she hates what Jorge did, resents all criminals, etc. She’s supposed to be sympathetic, someone the audience can relate to.
And to that I say, fuck that. Right when the momentum starts going, we got Roy tracking Skip, going in for the kill – suddenly we stop for long conversations in Famke Jannsen’s backyard. And we have to start worrying more about kids without a dad than about revenge and diamonds.
It’s not too late. The movie is not ruined. It still goes to a satisfying conclusion, but I think that little sidestep softens the blow. It’s what makes this picture pretty good instead of pretty damn good.
Pretty good is still pretty good though. This one’s worth seeing.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.