Our mini-mid-90s thon ends with this, one of those oddball, self-consciously cool comedy thrillers which major studios seemed to be falling over themselves to make at the time, thanks to “Pulp Fiction”, “Clerks”, “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead” and the Weinsteins bringing the best of indie cinema to the mainstream. If you lived through the era, chances are you’ll have seen a ton of those films, with their wisecracking murderers, pop culture referencing dialogue and “cool” little quirks, but I lived through that era and had never heard of this one. So, what’s it like?
Jason Priestley, at the height of his “Beverly Hills 90210” TV stardom, is Cosmo, a mob bookie whose life is sitting by a phone to take bets, going home to his room in the basement of an old people’s home (told you it was quirky) and sleeping with Honey (Janeane Garofalo), a hooker with a heart. Well, not really a heart. “Affectless” is the best way to describe him, as he seems curiously un-human. He comes across as a bit…simple?…at times, but it’s more to do with his almost complete withdrawal from the world.
For some reason, his main boss, played by Robert Loggia in a role he’s probably done a thousand times before, promotes him to trainee hitman. Cosmo doesn’t seem thrilled by this, but his affectless personality means he puts up barely any resistance, and his mentor Steve (Peter Riegert) recognises a talent in the making – he’s a great shot and after a very small amount of worry over his first killing, adapts perfectly to the lifestyle and begins, sort of, to enjoy it.
Interspersed with his trips to yoga (which must be miracle work, given how much it helps him with his killing anxiety) and his budding romance with his instructor, played by Kimberley Williams-Paisley, he’s out and about killing people for his mob boss, and the “main” plot of the film rumbles along. Anyone who’s seen one of these films before knows there’s going to be double-crosses, unusual job requests and betrayals.
The director of this film is Wallace Wolodarsky, better known to most as one of the original producers and writers for The Simpsons. He’s worked on and off since then, including scripts for “The Rocker” and “Monsters vs. Aliens”, but aside from this and whoops-we-need-to-dress-as-women-to-go-to-college movie “Sorority Boys”, he’s not directed much, and nothing at all in the last decade. Which is a shame, because this film is, while not necessarily amazing, certainly the film of a director with something interesting to say.
I think there’s a good reason this film has remained under the radar, though. Priestley’s performance is very odd – he varies from a blank slate to educationally subnormal to some sort of autism to lovesick…I can sort of see what he’s going for, but I don’t think he nails it. It’s certainly an interesting choice for director and actor, but I can’t help but feel a few tweaks would have worked wonders. Garofalo, who looks set to have some sort of pivotal role, just departs halfway through, as if edited out. But Peter Riegert, as the grizzled veteran, is note-perfect, as is Loggia (but that’s no surprise).
There’s lots of lovely but unobtrusive camerawork in this, and the flat boring expanse of Anytown, USA is well captured, as are the curiously empty homes of Cosmo and Steve. Care has been taken making this film, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s much of anything. Cosmo’s arc is really shallow and there’s a feeling of unreality over all the proceedings that takes you too far out of it, like you expect everyone to wink to the camera after they’ve been murdered. I can’t help but feel I’m doing a poor job of explaining to you why this film is a fascinating failure, but it’s like somewhere down deep in the workings of the film, a little cog doesn’t quite fit, making everything else skewed.
I’d definitely recommend it though. It deserves talking of in the same conversation as those other 90s films, and while it’s not perfect, neither were they (for self-consciously trying to start its own cult, it’s several steps below “Things To Do In Denver…”, for example).