Chow Bella

Durant’s Never Closes, Feature Film About Phoenix Restaurateur Jack Durant, Never Gets Going

Jack Durant was a small-town gambler with loose ties to Vegas racketeers. He had a big, obstreperous personality; owned our city’s most successful restaurant; and was listed among the FBI’s most dangerous men in Phoenix. Jack liked women, eavesdropping on patrons of his restaurant bar, and golf. He might have seen one or two people being murdered.

None of this makes for grand opera — or even, as it turns out, an especially entertaining movie. Durant’s Never Closes, an independent feature just out from local filmmaker Travis Mills, is a stylish post-noir profile of one of Phoenix’s bigger characters. It plays like a frenetic fever dream, with a rambling narrative that never gets going. The effect is less melodrama than a series of prettily imagined anecdotes about a bigger-than-life character in a smaller-than-life set of circumstances.

Tom Sizemore’s ghoulishly picturesque performance belongs to another movie. He plays Durant with improvisational style, muttering his obviously embellished dialogue and practically overturning sets with flamboyant scenery-chewing. He elevates a callous and calculated blowhard by never once asking us to sympathize with him. What might have been a laughable caricature becomes instead an extra-human performance.

Sizemore is not the only Hollywood royalty seen here. Director Peter Bogdanovich wanders through as a shady character trying to get Jack a spot in the local country club. Elsewhere, a cast of local stage actors provide attractive support. Mike Traylor is an amusing end-of-the-bar Durant’s regular; Greg Lutz is an affable eye doctor; Barbara McBain is BJ Thompson, a restaurant hostess willing to look the other way when the heat’s on.

A meandering melodrama with neither story arc nor story, the effect of Durant’s Never Closes is that of a series of untangled anecdotes with no place to go. There’s some promise in a recurring reference to the 1976 assassination of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, which may have been planned at Durant’s. Neatly imagined flashbacks about the murder haunt Durant, but ultimately lead nowhere, perhaps because there’s no place to go with this or any of Jack’s other attractively filmed recollections. As written by Mills, who also produced and directed, Jack Durant neither begins nor ends, despite a disappointing third-reel huzzah straight out of a Warners programmer.

Locals will like the tidy recreation of Durant’s velveteen-flocked interior and will enjoy spotting the local personalities (“Look, it’s Paul Wilson!” “Hey, is that Marshall Shore?”) who fill crowd scenes. Out-of-towners and fans of skillful storytelling will want more.

Durant’s Never Closes opens Friday, January 22, at Harkins Shea 14, 7354 E. Shea Blvd. in Scottsdale.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela