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Buscemi Swings in 'Trees'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 25, 1996

Just when you think youíve seen enough of Steve Buscemi (who seems to have a bit part in every movie, from "Reservoir Dogs" to "Fargo"), he comes back. In "Trees Lounge," which he directed, wrote and stars in, heís back bigger than ever. But the result is anything but tedious. The movie is bracing, bleak and funny, assuming you can appreciate the comedy in a story full of lowlifes, lushes and losers.

Buscemi is Tommy Basilio, a 31-year-old screwup who has been fired from his job as a car mechanic for stealing money. As usual, Tommy has his own version of the facts: He borrowed the $1,500 from the till, intending to put it back after winning big in Atlantic City. But being Tommy, he lost everything.

It doesnít help matters that the supervisor (Anthony Lapaglia) who fired Tommy has stolen his girlfriend Theresa (Carla Bracco). Oh, and Theresa happens to be pregnant -- almost definitely with Tommyís child.

Now Tommy spends his time sulking outside the gas station, or getting wasted at Trees Lounge, a dingy bar with a bad jukebox where everyone nurses Wild Turkey and trades insults.

Things get even worse for our dead-end antihero when he lets animal impulses get the better of him with Debbie (Chloe Sevigny), the 17-year-old daughter of his good friend Jerry (Daniel Baldwin). With Jerry coming after him with a baseball bat, itís time for Tommy to face up to his life.

In the ocean of Hollywood blockbusters and formulaic comedies, "Trees Lounge" is definitely a misanthropic bottom feeder. Itís vulnerable to criticism about its extensive depictions of alcohol and drug abuse, sexual attraction to underage females and so forth. But itís true to its own 80-proof, jaundiced vision.

Buscemi has a gift for finding something funny about anything, whether itís people fighting over lines of cocaine, Tommy climbing a backstop fence to avoid that swinging bat or the laughably doom-ridden atmosphere at Trees Lounge, where aging, regular client Bill (Bronson Dudley) sits statue-like at his regular spot, his only discernible movement to raise liquor to his mouth. Buscemi, whose yellowing, oversized incisors, unkempt hair and bulging eyes suggest a cross between Bart Simpson and a saber-toothed tiger, has created exactly what he was after: the dingiest, yet funniest barroom experience since "Barfly."

TREES LOUNGE (R) -- Contains sexual situations, profanity, minor violence and drug and alcohol abuse.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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