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By Ron Wells | April 26, 2002

You know, it’s not all fun and enlightenment when you’re smart. Someone quite brilliant, I think it was Lisa Simpson, once even drew a graph illustrating that as intelligence goes up, happiness goes right down the tubes. Why is that? Well, one part of being smart is understanding what you don’t know. For instance, I realized once that I didn’t know what stupid people talked about with each other, but then I watched the Pam and Tommy Lee video and cleared that right up.
Another element of being smart is the ability to know when your plans, ideas, or dreams are completely retarded. The tough part of this, however, is how long it may take you to realize your mistake. With filmmakers, even the ones we revere as geniuses, too often this awareness doesn’t hit them until sometime around the premiere. Case in point: writer/director Adam Rifkin. I think Rifkin is a smart guy, but he’s made some dumb movies (“The Chase”, “Detroit Rock City”) after having debuted with a really interesting one (“The Dark Backward”). Thankfully, he’s naw correcting that problem with this film about a bunch of poor, dumb bastards in the crushed-dream capital of the world, Los Angeles.
Our first target in the crosshairs of fate is Tommy (Donnie Montemarano). Now in his 50’s, the old bruiser is once again walking out of prison in the arms of his long-time partner-in-crime Mick (Vinny Argiro). Apparently learning nothing during his 25 years spent behind bars, Tommy declares he’s ready to pick right up where the two left off. Mick, who gets by now semi-legitimately with a job as a cum-scraper for the booths in an adult “bookstore”, brings to the table the only slightly less stupid plan of going to Vegas where the pair can become blackjack dealers. Not really getting the difficulties a pair of ex-cons who’ve done time for armed robbery might have with the Nevada state licensing board, Mick already sold Tommy’s classic old beater car in part to pay for bus tickets. Yes, they probably could have just driven the car. Anyhoo, the old pals will be on their way to Sin City, that is if they can make it to the next morning in Mick’s current digs, the quite run-down Golden Eagle Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Of course, these boys are not the only losers hitting bottom at the once swank digs. First up are Sally (Ann Magnuson) and Amber (Natasha Lyonne), a pair of prostitutes. While Amber just has a bad habit of taking out her frustrations on her “clients”, the older Sally is charged with the task of training 15-year-old Loriann (Nicole Jacobs), newly recruited by her volatile pimp Rodan (famed actor/soccer hooligan Vinnie Jones). Also on hand is a long-forgotten Hollywood dancer (Fayard Nicholas, yes, one of the Nicholas Brothers) and bag-lady lost in her movie dreams (Kitten Natividad?). On this long, hot summer night, everyone’s path will cross, and almost no one will reach morning with their delusions and their life intact. Nihilism ensues.
Well, this is a cheery movie, but it’s great to see that the talented Rifkin got his act together. While the film is filled with a number of name actors in minor parts (hell, James Caan is in it for like five seconds), the whole production is remarkably free of Hollywood horse-s**t. This is a dark, gritty, sometimes funny little gem. It also teaches us that once you think you’ve hit bottom, there’s always someplace a bit farther down you can go. The only real survivors are the people who can adapt to the situation and move on. Otherwise, a city like Los Angeles can just bury you. It’s a harsh lesson, but this movie is more than able to grab and hold your attention for it. I just wouldn’t bring a date.

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