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'Palookaville': Buds in Crime

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 15, 1996

"Palookaville," a warm-spirited, amusing twist on heist flicks, is about three likable, unemployed friends from New Jersey whose lives are going nowhere slow.

Sid (William Forsythe), who canít even afford to feed his beloved dogs, is suffering from a recent divorce and faces eviction. Jerry (Adam Trese), the married one in the group, depends on his wife, Betty (Lisa Gay Hamilton), for money. But Bettyís working for a boss who hits on her at every available opportunity. Russ (Vincent Gallo), a rather impoverished lowlife who loves to play the gangster, is obliged to live with his highly dysfunctional family.

Itís time to consider a robbery or two, just to make ends meet. "Iím not talking about a life of crime," insists Russ. "Just a momentary shift in lifestyle."

Unfortunately, these guys are not cut out for the underworld. Their first job -- robbing a jewelry store at night -- goes resoundingly awry. Breaking through a brick wall, theyíre surprised to find a shop full of doughnuts, not diamonds.

"What kind of [expletive] robs a bakery?" asks a cop, later, as the police investigate the sugar-dusted scene of the botched crime.

Regrouping, Russ, Jerry and Sid consider other opportunities. A lot of old people are stranded at night when cabs forget their orders. They could run a peopleís taxi service. This has its problems, too. Sid, for instance, insists on traveling with his rather smelly dogs, which turns off the customers.

Another less-than-legal opportunity presents itself: an armored truck, which regularly leaves the store where Betty works. All they have to do is hold it up (with fake guns), make off with the money and return to their law-abiding lives.

Obviously, things are going to be more complicated than our aspiring lawbreakers could possibly imagine. For one thing, Russís housemates include brother-in-law Ed (Gareth Williams), a cop with an instinctive suspicion of everything the penniless punk gets up to. The movie banks on our familiarity with robbery films -- in which the perpetrators always have to deal with unexpected, last-minute snags -- for its overriding tension.

But "Palookaville," inspired by a collection of Italo Calvino short stories about life in postwar Italy, has more engaging concerns. The movie, which was written by playwright David Epstein and directed by first-time filmmaker Alan Taylor, takes time to explore the menís relationships with their women, including Sidís newfound attraction to fur-shop assistant Enid (Bridgit Ryan) and Russís secret affair with a sweet girl next door (Kim Dickens). These romantic detours not only provide deeper perspective on our lovable losers, they make that stickup (and the distinct possibility that theyíll mess it up) twice as involving.

PALOOKAVILLE (R) ó Contains sexual situations and minor violence.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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