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'Crew, The'

All-star wiseguy farce falls flat Motley 'Crew'

Friday, August 25, 2000

By Ron Weiskind Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Most of the good gangster comedies of recent vintage have worked the sleek, ironic side of the street. "Get Shorty" equated Hollywood producers with mob bosses. "Prizzi's Honor" imagined hired guns falling in love. "Pulp Fiction" turned hit men into the coolest guys this side of the Sopranos.

'The Crew'

Rating: PG-13, for sexual content, violence and language.

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds.

Director: Michael Dinner.

Web site: LINK

Critic's call: 1 1/2 stars.


Now, along comes "The Crew," which aspires chiefly to broad farce. Alas, the movie proves once again that successfully executing this brand of comedy can be as difficult as extorting blood from a turnip. Like the scene in which Burt Reynolds is bodily ejected from a fast-food restaurant, the movie falls flat on its face.

Four decrepit former wiseguys are spending their so-called golden years in Miami Beach, living a life of squalor in the last of the city's run-down retirement hotels. For these mooks, crime didn't pay enough.

The owner of the building wants to kick them out and turn the place into another expensive South Beach yuppie haven. So the boys cook up a little scheme of their own -- make it look like someone committed a mob hit in the lobby. Sure enough, the yuppies can't wait to leave.

Emboldened by their apparent success, the crew starts living large again. But their ruse comes back to bite them. Events spiral out of their control. Their well-being requires ever more elaborate -- and cockamamie -- stratagems that succeed only too well, generating unexpected consequences that ratchet up the stakes even further.

For this kind of thing to work, the humor can be blunt but the handling must be precise. Producer Barry Sonnenfeld was approached to direct "The Crew," and had he given it the light, sure touch he utilized on "Get Shorty" (as opposed to his ham-fisted work on "The Wild, Wild West"), the movie might have had a chance.

But Sonnenfeld had to pass on the gig, and Michael Dinner ultimately was hired as director. He spent most of the past decade working in television and his previous feature, the 1988 talking-horse comedy "Hot to Trot," was so bad that Mr. Ed threatened to sue.

Dinner manages to make "The Crew," a movie set in Miami Beach, seem dark and rainy. He loads the frame with people and things and then keeps moving the camera through them. It's every bit as annoying as trying to bull your way through a crowd.

But some of the veteran actors try to bull their way through the movie. Reynolds plays a character called Bats. He earned the nickname because of his hair-trigger temper and his tendency to pummel people with a baseball stick. This actor who has gotten so much mileage out of laid-back, self-deprecatory humor spends most of the movie snarling and grappling.

Dan Hedaya plays Brick, the thick one. He keeps in touch with other retired mobsters by sending out Christmas cards. Seymour Cassell plays Mouth, the quiet ladies' man. His dalliance with a stripper named Ferris (Jennifer Tilly, typecast as the bimbo hanging out of her clothes) furthers the complications.

The only character whom screenwriter Barry Fanaro tries to flesh out is Bobby Bartellemeo (Richard Dreyfuss), the brains of the outfit. He gets to carry the emotional weight, searching for the daughter he lost a few decades earlier after being sent to prison.

But Dreyfuss is seven years younger than Hedaya and more than a decade younger than Reynolds and Cassell. He may be the best actor of the bunch and he's made up to look like a wreck, but it's hard to believe he was a Jersey mobster or that he has anything in common with the others. It's also a mark of the film's weakness that Dreyfuss' character has to narrate so much of it.

Fanaro was one of many writers and producers of the long-running TV series "The Golden Girls," about a quartet of older Miami women (I guess he knows his niche). That show not only treated the characters with some respect, it served as a kind of manifesto for the notion that life doesn't end at age 60.

"The Crew," on the other hand, seems to mock the elderly more than it celebrates them. Only during the resolution of the plot complications do the old folks get their due, and even then it seems more a kind of grotesque joke -- like what Brick does to the faces of stiffs in his job at the morgue.

As it turns out, the laughs in "The Crew" are as threadbare as the characters.

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