The Expendables 3


Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes decide to settle who has the bigger blade.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes decide to settle who has the bigger blade.

(2014) Action (Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Kellan Lutz, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Banderas, Dolph Lundgren, Wesley Snipes, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Ronda Rousey, Kelsey Grammer, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi, Ivan Kostadinov, Slavi Slavov, Natalie Burn, Sarai Givaty. Directed by Patrick Hughes

Back in 2010, action fans eagerly awaited the debut of The Expendables which united action heroes from days gone by Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren, Bruce Willis and of more recent vintage Li and Statham. The novelty factor alone made the movie a big hit but a single soliloquy by Mickey Rourke made the movie more memorable than the average action film.

Then came The Expendables 2 which added Jean-Claude van Damme and Chuck Norris (as well as more recent action star Liam Hemsworth) which was still entertaining in its own way but the novelty was beginning to wear off. Would the pattern continue?

Yeah, it does. While this is the most star-studded of the series, it is also the least fulfilling. I use that term advisedly – The Expendables 3 has a massive dose of testosterone that will grow hair on the chest of a Disney princess, and is surprisingly entertaining but not necessarily in a good way. You can sit back and watch this and take it for what it is, but if what it is doesn’t thrill you so much, you’re in for a long evening.

The team – leader Barney Ross (Stallone), right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham), surly Gunnar Jensen (Lundgren), just as surly Toll Road (Couture) and abs-tastic Hale Caesar (Crews) board a prison train carrying a single prisoner – former Expendable Dr. Death (Snipes). As usual, lots of people get shot and stuff blows up but Team Ex wins out in the end.

But it turns out that the prison break was kind of a side trip on the way to something else. They’ve to head out and intercept a shipment of bombs from an arms dealer, who turns out to be Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson) who just happened to co-found the Expendables before turning rogue and going out on his own. That job turns out to be something of a cluster frump and gets one of the team shot and in critical condition. Shaken up, Barney decides to retire the team and find a new one.

He needs one because their CIA contact Drummer (Ford) wants Stonebanks picked up alive and taken to the Hague to answer for his crimes. That’s easier said than done however and while Barney’s new team – including tech wizard Thorn (Powell), chatterbox Spanish killing machine Galgo (Banderas), team muscle Mars (Ortiz), beautiful but deadly Luna (Rousey) and anti-authoritarian potential team leader Smilee (Lutz) has more of a modern edge to them, they don’t do any better than the first team and things go sideways in a hurry. It will take the old team to rescue the new team and a final mano a mano brawl between Stonebanks and Barney to settle this once and for all.

Da Queen, being a pragmatic sort (and a bit of a masochist) decided to count up the ludicrous scenes in the movie when something that simply was too much of a stretch of the imagination to ignore; the end figure was in double digits. I can take a certain suspension of disbelief; after all, I used to love those ’80s action epics as much as the next guy. However, there comes a point where you’re inner brain starts to say “come on, you can’t be serious” to your testicles (or the female approximation of same) and the action fix begins to clash with your inner need for some sort of logic. How much you like the movie will depend on how bad you need an action fix.

Stallone, clean-shaven for the first time in the trilogy, looks every bit an AARP member at this point. There are several close-ups on his trademark sneer and as his righteous anger leeks out from his upper lip and into his eyeballs, you can tell he’s going to go all Rambo on somebody’s ass. Statham, not so nearly long in the tooth, merely looks uncomfortable most of the way through – perhaps that’s because he was involved in a near-fatal truck crash when the brakes on the truck he was driving in the movie failed and he was forced to abandon truck before it crashed into the sea.

I will say that the much-maligned Gibson fares the best here, channeling his Martin Riggs from back in the day and if Riggs were a villain in the Lethal Weapon series this is how he’d have turned out. He’s actually pretty fun to watch although I imagine that those who still haven’t gotten over his anti-Semitic drunken rant to the cops will be less sanguine about his performance. Snipes, recently released from prison, reminds us why he was such a great action star in the first place. I thought at one time he had the potential to be as big as Will Smith, although a series of bad roles and poor life choices derailed that. It still might happen though – he could use his performance here as an audition tape for any action movie in the offing and get serious consideration. He also has the best line in the movie; when asked by Toll Road what he was in prison for. I won’t tell you what he responds because the surprise is half the fun.

There is some CGI here and they must have done it on somebody’s Commodore VIC-20 because it is absolutely miserable, some of the worst I’ve ever seen. For example, for the scene near the movie’s end where he is hanging from a winch cable on a helicopter as the chopper pulls away from the camera, I’d much rather have stopped the scene with him dangling underneath it asking his snarky teammates to winch him up now right at that point instead of seeing a clearly CGI silhouette of the copter with the distant semi-humanoid figure and cable being sucked into the helicopter like a strand of spaghetti. I don’t like my action reality messed with.

This is a series whose novelty has run its course and needs to survive simply on the success of its action sequences and the quirkiness of its characters. For one thing, too many characters get virtually no screen time (Li shows up near the end and gets three or four lines and no fighting sequences which is a complete waste of his talents) and while the cast members are pretty able individually, the whole isn’t equal to the sum of its parts.

REASONS TO GO: Definite testosterone overload.

REASONS TO STAY: Super predictable and super brainless. Some of the worst CGI ever. Novelty has worn off.

FAMILY VALUES:  Oh yes, all sorts of violence with guns, blades, you name it – mayhem deluxe. There’s also a fair amount of language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first Expendables film not to be rated R.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/21/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Commando

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Code Name: The Cleaner

Advertisements

Pool Boys


George Takei wonders how he got into this movie.

George Takei wonders how he got into this movie.

(2011) Comedy (Cinedigm) Matthew Lillard, Brett Davern, Efren Ramirez, Rachelle Lefevre, Tom Arnold, Robert Davi, Jay Thomas, Rhoda Griffis, Patricia de Leon, Sheena Lee, Simona Fusco, Darla Haun, Janine Habeck, Monica Leigh, Jennifer Walcott, Heather Marsden, Rachel Rogers, A.J. Alexander, George Takei, John Billingsley, Stephanie Honore. Directed by J.B. Rogers

College these days is an expensive proposition and an Ivy League school like Harvard is nearly impossible unless your folks happen to have a spare million or two burning a hole in their pockets. For the rest of us, even if we have the grades and test scores to get in the very prospect of paying for a Harvard education is a daunting task.

That’s what Alex Sperling (Davern) is looking forward to. Fortunately, he has a summer internship set up that will help offset the cost but when that falls through, he looks to his fast-talking cousin Roger (Lillard) for help. Roger has been bragging about his successful aqua engineering business but as it turns out, Roger is a bit of a story teller – his business turns out to be pool maintenance in Los Angeles. As you might expect, Alex isn’t just disappointed – he’s furious.

Roger doesn’t want to let his cuz down however. A chance opportunity to housesit for a wealthy Beverly Hills client gives Roger a hare-brained idea – to turn the mansion into a brothel. He could – ‘scuse the pun – clean up and give Alex more than he needs for his tuition. Roger knows he can’t lose, particularly with Hollywood star Tom Arnold (himself) on his side.

If this kind of thing sounds familiar, it was old hat 30 years ago. Lillard is one of those character actors whose face you probably know well if not the name. He can do goofy but a little of it goes a long way and he’s a bit over-the-top here. So too is Efren Ramirez as an over-sexed gardener. However, they at least have some personality – Davern shows little here.

Like any raunchy sex comedy, there’s plenty of raunch – lots of women in various states of undress, the occasional boob, and I will say that the women in this film are as good looking as any as you’ll find in a single movie of this sort. For those looking for that sort of thing, you can’t go wrong here.

Unfortunately most of the rest of us want some comedy with our sex comedies and there is little of that to be found here. Most of the jokes are tired and/or fall flat. Some of that is performer-driven but much of it is that the jokes weren’t that funny to begin with. That’s not a good sign if you’re looking to laugh.

WHY RENT THIS: Plenty of gorgeous swimsuit-clad (and nude) bodies.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t add anything to the raunchy sex comedy genre. Not funny enough.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of raunchy humor, sexual content and nudity, some bad language and a bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Braille studs on Lillard’s cap read “1969.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a virtual lapdance sequence (I kid you not).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2,269 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Risky Business

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Ender’s Game

The Iceman


Michael Shannon has a unique way of firing his agents.

Michael Shannon has a unique way of firing his agents.

(2012) True Crime Drama (Millennium) Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi James Franco, Stephen Dorff, Danny Abeckaser, John Ventimiglia, Ryan O’Nan, McKaley Miller, Megan Sherrill, Hector Hank, Zoran Radanovich, Shira Vilensky, Kelly Lind, Erin Cumings, Ashlynn Ross, Weronika Rosati, Christa Campbell. Directed by Ariel Vromen

It’s always the quiet ones, the ones who lose it and go on a killing spree. Contract killers are another case altogether. These are men with ice in their veins, able to kill without remorse or emotion. It’s a job for them, no less upsetting than someone who sells cars for a living.

Richie Kuklinski (Shannon) is a family man, married to the beautiful but volatile Deborah (Ryder). He works dubbing films – cartoons he tells his wife but porn films in reality. The mobster who runs the porn operation Richie is working for – Roy DeMeo (Liotta) – is impressed by Richie’s coolness under fire, so he decides to take Richie on as a contract killer. Roy and his buddy Josh Rosenthal (Schwimmer) take Richie out and order him to kill some random homeless guy which he does.

This is the start for a whole new career for Richie as he ices guys on Roy’s say-so. When a coke deal is botched by Josh who kills the dealers involved, Roy is forced to lay low for awhile, leaving Richie unemployed. As money gets tighter and Richie’s temper gets more volatile, Richie hooks up with Mr. Freezy (Evans), a freelance contract killer who works out of an ice cream truck. He teaches Richie the proper use of cyanide and the trick of freezing bodies and then thawing them before dumping them, throwing police off on the correct time of death. It is for the latter practice that Richie is given the nickname “The Iceman.”

When DeMeo finds out about Richie’s new freelancing scheme, he goes ballistic which doesn’t bode well for Richie’s future state of health. When Roy brings in Leonard Marks (Davi) from one of the big crime families in New York, it looks like Richie’s days are numbered but Roy and Marks have forgotten one prime directive – never ever piss off a contract killer.

This is pretty standard stuff for the true mob killer movie. Yes, Richie Kuklinski was a real person who claims to have killed between 100-250 people during his heyday from 1948 to 1986. He was also a family man who’s arrest stunned his neighborhood.

While the story remains pretty typical, the acting here is superb. Shannon, an Oscar nominee, shows that there are many more of those on the way (and likely a statuette somewhere down the line) with a powerful performance here which is doubly commendable because he doesn’t have a lot to work with. The real Richie was by all accounts a strong, silent type who wasn’t much of a communicator. He was more or less a psychopath who was paid for crimes he probably would have committed eventually in any case. Shannon gives Richie at least some personality, with cold eyes that erupt into volcanic fury when pushed. It’s a marvelous juxtaposition that gives the character depth that the real Richie probably didn’t have.

Ryder, who has been an infrequent screen presence of late, is absolutely amazing as the willfully oblivious Deborah. She knows that her husband is hiding something horrible, but chooses to ignore it. There’s nothing wrong if she doesn’t know there’s anything wrong, so she chooses to ignore it until it’s right in her face.

Schwimmer is the anti-Ross here, stocky with a hippie ponytail, a 70s porn star moustache and a mean streak, although there is a bit of Ross-like nebbishness as he begins to realize he is in far over his head. Liotta gets a standard Ray Liotta crime figure and does with it what he usually does, which also adds to the overall quality of the picture.

In fact the performances are what makes the movie. This is strongly acted throughout, from the barely-recognizable Evans to Franco in a brief cameo. It’s Shannon however who carries the movie and he does so with ease. He may well be this generation’s De Niro – not a traditional leading man sort but who elevates every movie he’s in. While Vromen is no Scorsese and this no Goodfellas it nonetheless doesn’t disgrace the genre created by that film. In fact, it’s a solid follower in it’s footsteps.

REASONS TO GO: A strong performance by Michael Shannon.

REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t really add much to the true life mob movie genre.

FAMILY VALUES:  A good deal of violence and a bit of gore, lots and lots of foul language and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James Franco was originally cast as Kuklinski but had to take the smaller role as Marty Freeman instead; Maggie Gyllenhaal was likewise cast as Deborah Pellicotti but had to drop out due to her pregnancy and Winona Ryder got the part.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100; solid good reviews here.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kill the Irishman

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The History of Future Folk

The Goonies


The Goonies ARE good enough!

The Goonies ARE good enough!

(1985) Adventure (Warner Brothers) Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, John Matuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantolliano, Anne Ramsey, Lupe Ontiveros, Mary Ellen Trainor, Keith Walker, Steve Antin. Directed by Richard Donner

Some movies capture a moment in our lives, one in which we were essentially happy or later convinced that we were. Perhaps we were children at the time, or just starting out as adults with our whole lives ahead of us. I was 25 when The Goonies came out. My father was still alive. I was single but at least I was (kinda) dating. I was working at my dream job as a rock and movie critic for a weekly paper. Life was good.

Life was good for a group of kids who called themselves the Goonies as well, but then it turned not-so-good. Greedy developers wanted to put in a high end golf course and housing development where their homes were. Most of their parents were struggling to get through but now their struggles appeared to be over and the battle was lost. Despite their best efforts they were all going to have to move and after this weekend they’d never be together again.

Mikey Walsh (Astin) is an asthmatic kid with big dreams. The rainy weather of Astoria, Oregon (where they live and where the movie was shot) doesn’t do a kid with his lungs too much good. His big brother Brand (Brolin) is tasked with watching over him while his mom (Trainor) takes the maid (Ontiveros) out to get some things they need to clean up the house before they leave.

In the meantime they are joined by Mikey’s friends Chunk (Cohen), an overweight klutz with a big ol’ heart, Data (Quan) who yearns to be the next James Bond and is constantly inventing new gadgets to make that come true and Mouth (Feldman) who talks a whole lot but only once in awhile has something to say.

Brand on the other hand has it bad for Andy (Green), a comely young cheerleader whose acerbic best friend Stef (Plimpton) keeps her head from getting too big; besides that she genuinely likes the people hovering around Andy with the exception of Troy (Antin), the son of the developer who is putting the Goonies out of their homes.

While looking about the attic where Mikey’s dad, the director for the tiny local museum has been storing some of the town’s artifacts, the klutzy Chunk knocks over a painting to which the glass shatters. Inside the painting there turns out to be a map. The map appeared to be the work of local legend One-Eyed Willie, a pirate who sailed the waters of the Pacific centuries ago and disappeared with whispers of a vast treasure hidden in the area – a treasure that’s never been found.

Mikey realizes this could be their ticket; their means of saving their homes. Of course, there’s another legend – that of Chester Copperpot, a treasure hunter who disappeared while looking for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Despite Brand’s strict orders to that he needs to stay inside, Mikey and his friends ambush Brand and tie him up, let out the air of his bike’s tires and pedal off madly for one last great adventure.

In the meantime, Jake Fratelli (Davi) has been broken out of jail by his mean ol’ Ma (Ramsey) and brother Francis (Pantolliano). They’ve holed up in an abandoned restaurant which as it turns out is where the entrance to the caves where One-Eyed Willie’s treasure is buried. They manage to elude the not too bright crime gang but there is a wild car – the brutish Sloth (Matuszak) whom they keep chained up. Now the Fratellis are hot on the trail of the Goonies with the treasure – and their very homes – at stake. Are the Goonies good enough to take the challenge?

This is perhaps one of the classic movies of the 80s. It’s got Cyndi Lauper on the soundtrack. It’s got Steven Spielberg producing it. It’s got references that put it square in that remarkable decade. It’s got young actors, most of whom went on to bigger and better things in later years. And those young actors do an amazing job. You never forget for a moment that you’re in a group of friends, the same kind you had at their age. The kids you biked all over the neighborhood with. The kids you played videogames with on rainy afternoons. The kids you shared all your deepest secrets with.

Of course, a lot of kids in their 20s and younger reading this won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Growing up was a whole lot different back then than it is now. You had a lot more face time with your friends who ALL lived in the neighborhood. You saw them in school, you hung out with them afterwards. That’s just the way it was.

The movie is perfectly cast and is fun from beginning to end. The caves of One-Eyed Willie are packed with fiendishly evil and clever traps. The pirate ship Inferno, the vessel of One-Eyed Willie, is magnificent in detail (the filmmakers actually built a working vessel; when you see it sailing near the end of the film, it actually is sailing.

This is perfect family entertainment; it’s got a little bit of everything and it’s never overbearing. Although Donner directed it, there are definite Spielbergian touches throughout and you never for an instance think that it’s anything but a Spielberg film. However, there are definitely things that are of Donner’s devising as well. It’s a theme park attraction waiting to happen (who wouldn’t want to ride a waterslide into a lagoon with a pirate ship floating at anchor?) and a great ride of a movie. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? And if you have kids, get them off their cell phones and iPads and into the living room for a family movie night. It’s something your whole family will remember for a very long time to come.

WHY RENT THIS: A classic adventure and family movie. Delightful and clever.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Spielberg, pirates, gadgets, spy movies, 80s movies or fun, you might not like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few mildly bad words, some rude humor, a bit of violence and peril and a couple of disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When Jake Fratelli sings to Sloth an excerpt from Madame Butterfly, that’s really actor Robert Davi singing; he is a trained opera singer as well as an actor.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Special Edition DVD includes music videos of both of Cyndi Lauper’s hit songs from the movie, outtakes and a video commentary track that periodically reduces the movie to a window in the corner; the commentators are Donner and all seven of the now-grown Goonies. The Blu-Ray edition has all of these plus a reprint of the official movie magazine from 1985, ten storyboard cards, a reprint of an Empire magazine article on the movie and a board game. That’s right, you heard me correctly – a board game. I’m gonna run right out and get this sucka for Christmas.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $61.4M on an unreported production budget; these are only the domestic box office numbers. The movie was a huge hit in its day and continues to generate income through home video, television and occasional theatrical showings.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Raiders of the Lost Ark

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Things We Lost in the Fire

Kill the Irishman


 

Kill the Irishman

Don’t get Ray Stevenson angry – he can fart flames!

(2008) Biodrama (Anchor Bay) Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Vinnie Jones, Paul Sorvino, Fionnula Flanagan, Laura Ramsey, Steve Schirripa, Linda Cardellini, Bob Gunton, Jason Butler Harner, Robert Davi. Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh

 

Here, at last, is a movie for which the Irish lament “Danny Boy” is quite literally appropriate for – and the filmmakers showing restraint unheard-of in Hollywood actually don’t use it. That’s at least worth some respect.

Danny Greene (Stevenson) was an enforcer for the Cleveland Irish mob. In his heyday in the 70s, he and his partner John Nardi (D’Onofrio) fought a war against the Italian mob that was epic in its viciousness. In 1976 alone, 36 bombs exploded in the city as a direct result of the mob war.

He started off as a longshoreman rising up in the union. He eventually took over the leadership of the union (Merke) and would later be convicted of skimming funds from the membership. Once out of jail, he turned to crime as a full-time operation, working with Shondor Birns (Walken) but things go south. Greene requests a $75,000 loan to build a semi-legal drinking establishment; Birns entrusts the money to a runner who then proceeds to buy drugs with it, and is promptly caught by the police. Because Greene never received the cash, he refused to pay back the loan which had been paid for by the Gambino family, putting immense pressure on Birns.

Greene breaks away from the Italian mafia forming his own group mainly comprised of young guys of Irish descent, with Nardi as (kind of) their legitimizer. Greene is bombarded with several attempts on his life, including one where his home was hit by a bomb while he and his girlfriend were asleep. The house collapsed but Greene and his girlfriend survived, shielded by rubble.

Greene would attain legendary status in Cleveland. He often took care of those in need of cash in Cleveland’s Irish community and came out of every assassination attempt more or less unscathed. He became a darling in the Cleveland media and the bane of the Cleveland mafia’s existence. He also became an informant to the FBI.

This is based on a non-fiction book – loosely based I might add – that was written by a Cleveland police officer familiar with the case and with Greene (the fictionalized character based on the author is played by Val Kilmer in the film). That book was also turned into a documentary I haven’t seen yet, but the filmmakers here do a pretty credible job with it.

The cast is pretty spectacular for an indie, including Walken – curiously restrained as the racketeer who first came into conflict with Greene, and veterans Schirripa and Sorvino who have made careers out of playing Mafiosi doing stand-up jobs.

Stevenson, best known for his work on the HBO series “Rome” and for playing The Punisher in Punisher: War Zone (and doing both well) proves once again he is much more than an impressive physique. He catches both the larger than life aspect of Greene as well as his clever and sinister side. Greene was a complicated man as you can probably tell from the synopsis; he was equal parts folk hero, bullshit artist, criminal and killer. The movie tends to gloss over the killer part to focus on his folk hero standing; he is portrayed as a basically decent guy who just happened to kill people for a living.

This is an excellent cast top to bottom. Cardellini plays Greene’s wife and the mother of his kids in a role that could easily have been thankless but is given some sparkle by her performance, while Flanagan plays an old Irish woman who reminds Greene of his roots and isn’t afraid to stand up to the tough guy, to his amusement.

This takes a larger than life character and tries to compress him down into a two hour time frame which has its pros and cons. One of the cons is definitely that we really don’t see why Greene, who was so obviously bright and charismatic, went down the road of organized crime. It just kind of happens in the film and without any explanation. One scene depicting how he fell into it – or a montage if necessary – could have made for a bit more continuity.

Still, this is well worth watching. America has a fascination with criminals, from Jesse James to John Dillinger and Danny Greene could well end up having the same kind of cultural impact over time. He had a lot of blarney and a dark side as well, a combination that’s like catnip to our violence-obsessed culture. Although Greene considered himself as Irish first and foremost, he may well have been the perfect American anti-hero – living life on his own terms and by his own rules and the devil take the cost.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly stellar cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Glosses over some of the motivations as to why Greene got into crime.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, quite a bit of bad language and a helping heaping of nudity and sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production shot at Tiger Stadium (Navin Field) in Detroit shortly before it was demolished.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an hour-long documentary on the real Danny Greene.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.2M on an unreported production budget. The movie probably finished just a bit below breaking even.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wiseguys

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Savages

The Dukes


The Dukes

The Dukes engage in a competition to see which one can hold his arms at his sides the longest.

(2007) Dramedy (CAVU) Robert Davi, Chazz Palminteri, Peter Bogdanovich, Frank D’Amico, Elya Baskin, Miriam Margolyes, Eloise DeJoria, Melora Hardin, Bruce Weitz, Joseph Campanella, Dominic Scott Kay, Elaine Hendrix, Alphonse Mouzon. Directed by Robert Davi

There are those in this life who seem forever doomed to be runners-up, also-rans and second-raters. It just seems as if no matter how hard they try, they never win the blue ribbon. They’re the sorts who get attendance awards in school, who are snubbed by all the girls except for the ones who can’t get dates, and who seem to have the knack for parlaying what talents they do have into mediocrity and obscurity.

The Dukes define this trait. A doo-wop band from the 60s, they got big just as the trend was on its way out and managed one minor hit to call their own before music passed them by. Still, they labor gamely on, led by their cockroach of a manger Lou (Bogdanovich), playing seedy dives and getting work in awful commercials in which they must dress as fruits and vegetables.

Still, Danny (Davi) is reasonably optimistic, despite a lifetime of letdowns. Then, when his ex-wife Diane (Hardin) gets his son’s teeth fixed by the orthodontist she’s dating, it seems like the last straw. He can’t even provide for his family like a man and little wonder since he and brother George (Palminteri) have resorted to working in their Aunt Vee’s (Margolyes) kitchen, slinging plates of pasta while dreaming of opening their own place.

When they get wind of a fortune in gold being kept in a dentist’s vault, they and fellow Dukes Murph (Baskin) and Armond (D’Amico) decide to pull off a heist, something that will solve all of their money problems. They enlist the aid of a professional (Weitz) to teach them what they need to know to pull off the job. Of course, given the track record of the Dukes they’re going to need a lot more than that.

Davi has made a living playing the heavy in films like Licence to Kill and The Goonies; this might come as a bit of a surprise for those who know him through those roles. Here he plays a somewhat lovable kind-hearted schlub who dreams of better days, but never quite gets there. As a director he doesn’t do anything that gets too far out of his comfort zone. He doesn’t take a lot of chances, but he does his job competently and to be honest that’s all you can ask for out of a first time director.

The always-reliable Palminteri excels as the chubby-chasing George. This isn’t anything too far out of Palminteri’s wheelhouse – he has always done well with quirky – and he reacts with a solid performance. He and Davi have some chemistry together too with that love-hate relationship that characterizes most brothers well-defined.

This isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to get you any particular insight nor is it going to stick around your memory far beyond the closing credits. Nonetheless, its nifty entertainment that won’t leave you terribly disappointed either. Sometimes that’s all you really need.

WHY RENT THIS: The movie has a sweet nature at its center.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: While sweet, the calories are ultimately empty ones.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief sexuality and a couple of drug references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Davi starred in, directed and wrote the script, which was inspired by a stint working in a 1977 TV movie Contract on Cherry Street with real-life 60s rock star Jay Black of Jay and the Americans.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26,875 on an unreported production budget; the movie was a flop in its theatrical release.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Fast Five