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‘Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 16, 1996

NEVER TRUST salesmen at the door, coupons promising you free vacation trips or attention-getting movie titles. Case in point: "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead," an overwrought gangster fable that tries to pull a slick, fa on you.

Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg creates a set of henchmen whose smart-alecky tough-guy banter is so over-stylized you want to feed dese guys to the fishes. He uses brutality and profanity to replace storytelling and tears his scenario from the well-worn Hollywood Book of Script Options (Chapter Three: Gangster Redemption Stories).

Jimmy the Saint (Andy Garcia), who used to run with a paraplegic mob leader known as the Man With the Plan (Christopher Walken), is in trouble. His attempt to go straight—an "afterlife advice" videotaping service, where the dying record advice to their next of kin—has gone bust. And the Man With the Plan (who indirectly bankrolled the enterprise) wants his money back.

The Man With the Plan gives Jimmy a way out. It seems the crippled leader's simpleminded son Bruce (Josh Charles), distraught over the woman who dumped him, has been molesting girls in a schoolyard. Jimmy's job is to round up some bad guys, find the guy who stole Bruce's woman and scare him off.

So Jimmy rounds up his cash-strapped pals from the old days.

* Pieces (Christopher Lloyd), who's losing his fingers to some mysterious strain of leprosy and is now a porno-movie projectionist.

* Franchise (William Forsythe), who runs a trailer park and fights with his religious wife.

* Critical Bill (Treat Williams), a wild-eyed nut who practices his boxing on the corpses he dresses at a funeral home.

* Easy Wind (Bill Nunn), an exterminator whose life revolves around pesticide.

Well, if the job worked out, we wouldn't have a movie. Something goes terribly wrong. The Man With the Plan declares them "buckwheats," which means they should be killed as horribly as possible, and sends a ruthless hitman called Mr. Shhh (Steve Buscemi) after them.

Jimmy just wants to get back to his new affair with Dagney (Gabrielle Anwar), a skiing instructor who falls for dumb pickup lines. ("You glide," Jimmy tells her. And girls who glide, he continues, "Need guys who make them thump." You figure out what he means.) But he's not Jimmy the Saint for nothing. He's got to take care of all his people, including the gang that couldn't pull off the job and street hooker Lucinda (Fairuza Balk), who just wants to quit her gig and have Jimmy's baby.

As the Man With the Plan, Walken (who operates his wheelchair with his mouth and cracks nasty, off-color jokes about his dormant masculinity) performs the usual Christopher Walken show. And Williams makes an endearing psychotic. But most of the time, the movie, directed by novice Gary Fleder, draws tiresome attention to its secondhand coolness and artificial poignancy. Jimmy's spiritual ascension is triteness personified. And the movie crawls with cringe-inducing lines. "We did the things," says Pieces as he faces certain death, and sentimentally recalls a "$2,000 fox trot with that chick in the Paris nightclub." Pieces, you didn't do the things. You're not even real.

THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD (R) — Contains sexual situations, excessive violence and considerable profanity.

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