(Air Date: Week Of 10/23/96)
Well, hot new neighborhoods finally cool down and become gentrified, and original, new art forms finally become set in their ways and start ripping off the fresh, early successes, the way country music became a kneejerk recap of Hank Williams' original stew of whiskey, prison, Mama, and a train whistle. More than ten years after films like Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger than Paradise" put independent film making on the map, "Palookaville," by first-time director Alan Taylor, is still charting out the same territory.
We have a trio of unemployed losers in Jersey City, New Jersey, who're looking to try crime as a 'momentary shift in lifestyle', while smoking, drinking beer, eating doughnuts, and plotting together with lines like "As a man unemcumbered by any kind of woman, I think the whole thing's too servial". "Servial? You mean servile". The guys are Jerry, a sort of clean-cut, but bewildered, Johnny Depp type; Russ, the angst-ridden, chain-smoking Jean-Paul Belmondo type, played by Vincent Gallo of "Arizona Dreams"; and Sid, the deadpan, dorky, weirdly eye-glassed, type, played by William Forsythe.
In the beginning, we see them accidentally try to rob a bakery instead of the targeted jewelry store, the requisite failed attempt at petty crime that we'd expect from our boys -- we've seen it all before, right? We get the requisite brother-in-law cop; the world-weary pregnant woman in a bathrobe; the truck driver having a heart attack at the wheel of the truck; the younger girlfriend type who wants Russ to run away with her to some place that begins with Las, you knows, Las Vegas or Las Angeles; and the indignant wife with a baby type who wants a washer and dryer.
There's also a wisdom-spouting prostitute, played by Frances McDormand of "Fargo," who does some politically correct male bashing; and a whacked-out girl criminal whose initial nocturnal encounter with Sid gave me a strong whiff of Teri Garr in "After Hours".
We get touches like coffee drinking at the diner, truck bashing, dialogues about how much Sid's dogs stink, and the obviously doomed attempt to rob an armored truck, with lines like "What you wearing masks for?" "We're gonna rob you, jerk."
The one addition to the Jim Jarmusch, Coen brothers classic litany is dog drilling, but I'm not sure that's anything to be proud of. When you read some incoherent babble about how Palookaville was inspired by Italo Calvino stories about post-war Italy, only it's really based on an American play by David Epstein, only Epstein actually wrote the screenplay inspired by a 1957 Italian crime comedy called "Big Deal on Madonna Street," you see why this film ends up churning its material. With its outback urban netherworld setting, "Palookaville" creates some atmosphere that you could call the Indie cinematic broth, but when you take a sip, you find out there's nothing, uh, In the Soup.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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