Jimmy the Saint is a suave, gentlemanly reformed gangster trying to make it as a legit Denver businessman. His firm records on video--in something like the manner of a dating service--the final advice and messages of its aged or ailing clients, so that they can continue being of use to their loved ones after they have passed on. This business concept is the first of several clues to why the hero of Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead is known as Jimmy the Saint rather than Jimmy the Genius.
Still, as played by Andy Garcia, Jimmy is likable, and so is the movie. Director Gary Fleder's feature debut has mostly been dismissed as a shallow Quentin Tarantino knockoff, which it certainly is. But it's sort of fun.
An invalid Denver crime lord known only as TheMan With the Plan (Christopher Walken) calls Jimmy in and asks a favor of him--Jimmy is to do "an action." That is, rather than kill someone, he's to put an ungodly scare into someone; specifically, the romantic rival of The Man's son, who, since losing his girlfriend, has lapsed into pedophilia.
Jimmy reluctantly takes the assignment, gathering up his old crew of usual suspects to assist him. It hardly need be said that the "action" goes sour, in a way so hideous that Jimmy and his pals are, for all intents and purposes, dead men walking. The balance of the film depicts what they do in Denver in the short grace period The Man allows them before they must either leave town or face the dreaded hit man Mr. Shhh (played, of course, by Steve Buscemi; where would films of this sort be without him?).
The characters talk in a gaudy, self-conscious slang, the invention of the screenwriter, Scott Rosenberg. For instance, the phrase "boat drinks" is used as a term of affectionate greeting or parting--it refers to the elegant beverages that friends feel they'll sip with each other on the deck of a yacht one day, after they've made their big score.
Rosenberg provides on-screen translation and explanation of thisstuff in the person of a sage chorus figure played by Jack Warden, who comments on the action from his booth in a diner. The dialogue is even more coy and purple than that in Rosenberg's script for Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls, also currently in release. But as with Beautiful Girls, a cast better than the script deserves manages to make the writing sound a good deal better than it deserves to.
With his private smile and his soft-spoken, romantic intensity, Garcia comes across better than I've ever seen him. He seems to know that the film is nonsense, and there's nothing to do but turn on the charm. When he's wooing a young woman (Gabrielle Anwar) with whom he's fallen madly in love at first sight, his sly underplaying--his lack of smolder--is most appealing.
Jimmy's mixed bag of oddball cronies consists of such pros as Christopher Lloyd, Treat Williams, Bill Nunn and William Forsythe, and good actors like Glenn Plummer, Fairuza Balk, Josh Charles and Don Cheadle pop up in smaller roles. They keep the film lively even as the plot grows increasingly absurd. Make no mistake, Things to Do in Denver isn't a good film, but it's an enjoyable dumb one. It's something to do in Phoenix when you're dead-tired of movie respectability.
Atehtat (Assassination): Directed by Oles Yanchuk. Unrated. (At Valley Art Theatre in Tempe.)
On a less ephemeral note: Valley Art Theatre in Tempe will host a one-time screening of the Ukrainian film Atehtat (Assassination) at 5 p.m. onSunday. Co-produced by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Inc. (and presented locally by that organization's Phoenix branch), the feature tells the long-suppressed story ofStepan Bandera, the leader of the revolutionary anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet Ukrainian Insurgent Army who was assassinated in Munich in 1959.
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The director, Oles Yanchuk, is expected to be present at the Valley Art screening. Tickets for this rare chance to get a look at the face of a virtually unknown cinema of post-Soviet Eastern Europe are a measly $5; for more info, call 253-3623 or 829-6668.--M. V. Moorhead
Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead:
Directed by Gary Fleder; with Andy Garcia, Christopher Walken, Treat Williams, Jack Warden and Gabrielle Anwar.