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Old Jokes From a Tired 'Crew'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2000


    'The Crew' Oldfellas: Seymour Cassell, Dan Hedaya, Burt Reynolds and Richard Dreyfuss.
(Buena Vista)
Okay, what have we got here with "The Crew"? Four crotchety guys get called out of retirement to relive the glory days of their youth.

Wait a minute, you're thinking, didn't I just see "Space Cowboys" three weeks ago? Wrong bunch of crotchety guys. Instead of "Grumpy Old Astronauts," what we have here is "Grumpy Old Mobsters." And in place of "Cowboys'" geriatric quartet of former Air Force flyboys hired by NASA to rope an errant Russian satellite, this long-in-the-tooth "Crew" stars Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Dan Hedaya and Seymour Cassell as out-of-commission Mafiosi who stage one last caper to keep their Miami Beach apartment building from gentrification.

Apologies and thanks to the Highly Trained Professional Journalist (okay, it was my brother), from whom I stole the above "Grumpy Old Mobsters" line. Sounds cheesy, I know, not to mention lazy, or worse, plagiaristic. Yeah, but why should I feel guilty about cribbing lines when the filmmakers can't even be bothered to come up with a believable character or an original joke? Instead of fully fleshed out human beings, what we get from sitcom vets Michael Dinner, the director, and Barry Fanaro, the screenwriter, are two-dimensional stereotypes whose DNA was lifted from a long lineage of wiseguy movies and easy laughs at the expense of New Jersey, South Florida, Italians, Jews, Latinos, seniors and venal, conniving women.

To wit: Reynolds is Joey "Bats" Pistella, a wiseguy whose hair-trigger temper and fondness for breaking bones with sporting equipment has earned him his proud moniker. He ekes out a living on Social Security and minimum-wage jobs at Burger King. Hedaya plays one-time arsonist and havoc-wreaker Mike "The Brick" Donatelli, who now works as a mortuary makeup artist, whiling away the golden years exchanging greeting cards with old mob cronies. Cassell is Tony "Mouth" Donato, who, in a touch of feeble irony, barely speaks (har har). As Bobby "The Narrator" Bartellemeo, Dreyfuss nudges the sluggish plot forward in a thick, faux-Joisey voice-over that becomes more grating by the minute. A career criminal whose evil ways and time spent in the slammer have caused him to lose touch with his daughter, Bobby gets a touching little sub-plot all to himself. Rest assured, it will resolve itself in exactly the way and at exactly the moment you most expect it to.

To lower the property values in their building, the crew drags a stiff from the Brick's day job, pumps it full of lead and leaves it in the lobby to scare off the yuppies. The plan backfires, though, when the now headless corpse (Manuel Estanillo) is identified as the father of a South American drug lord (Miguel Sandoval), who mistakenly believes that war has been declared on him and his cartel. Meanwhile, hooker Ferris Lowenstein (the always unwelcome Jennifer Tilly, whose adenoids give her bosom a run for its money), finds out about the plot from the libidinous and suddenly loose-lipped Mouth, whose "prostate the size of a Vidalia onion" apparently doesn't prevent him from making the beast with two backs. Ferris drags the boys deeper into danger by blackmailing them into offing her stepmother Pepper (Lainie Kazan) in exchange for her silence. Throughout it all, a pair of inept cops who used to be lovers (Carrie-Anne Moss and Jeremy Piven) bicker while pretending to investigate the escalating spiral of crime.

"Thank God your father's dead," says Pepper, after uncovering Ferris's plot, "because this would kill him." (And thank God for Lainie Kazan, probably the only actress alive who can still get away with warmed over borscht-belt chestnuts like that.)

There are a few other choice laughs: Some sight gags involving dead bodies wearing lipstick and a scene of Richard Dreyfuss hurtling into a swimming pool from his apartment window provoke a chuckle, if you like that sort of thing. And Fanaro manages to get in a good dig at lax gun laws ("Thanks Joey," says Bats to the freelance gun dealer who supplies him with firepower. "Thank the Republicans," is the reply). But all in all, this tired, listless and anemic "Crew" needs a stiff shot of Geritol if it hopes to provide an opportunity for something other than a nice, long nap.

THE CREW (PG-13, 88 minutes) – Contains wind-breaking, obscenity, cartoonish violence, a glimpse of topless sunbathers and a wrinkly man's derriere, strip club scenes, gunplay, toe-sucking and public urination.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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