Since making his feature debut in "Animal House" way back in 1978, Peter Riegert has become one of the best reasons to go to the movies, and his 1983 film, "Local Hero," still holds up as a classic of the fish-out-of-water genre.
In "King of the Corner," Riegert plays an alien again, only this time he's a middle-aged man who finds himself adrift in his own life. Leo Spivak is a New York marketing consultant who has made a living staging focus groups on products such as spray-on pasta sauce. Now in his fifties, he divides his time between his beautiful but distant wife (Isabella Rossellini), his increasingly secretive teenage daughter (Ashley Johnson) and his elderly father, Sol (Eli Wallach), who has moved to an Arizona nursing home. As he's aged, Riegert has developed an appealing, crusty exterior over his native gentleness, and in "King of the Corner," which he co-wrote and directed, his irascible back-and-forth with Wallach convincingly suggests that Leo is a curmudgeon-in-training.
While Sol waits to die, Leo must grapple with a grim reaper of his own, in the form of a colleague who is notorious for laying people off. While he fends off an encroaching young hotshot (Jake Hoffman), Leo goes off a few deep ends, each resulting in his lament that "this is the worst thing I've ever done in my life." Riegert has personally gone on a tour of the nation's theaters to open "King of the Corner," and his belief in the project is justified; it's a warm, unexpectedly moving portrait of a man on the verge of what could either be a dreadful or delightful second chapter.
-- Ann Hornaday