Friday, October 13, 2006

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints - Movie Review

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints 2006

Or conversely, “A Guide to Patronizing Your Audience”. When Dito Montiel was a young man growing up in the still gritty New York City of the 1980s, he was a troubled youth. And by troubled, we mean stupid. He fell in with the wrong crowd. People even dumber than himself. He disobeyed his parents. (Shocking!) And he watched while his friends self destructed.

He left New York City, moved to the other coast, wrote a memoir, made some money and decided to film his early mistakes for us all to enjoy. He was wrong then and he’s wrong now.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” is neither a guide, nor recognizable nor filled with saintly people. It is a guide for idiots who enjoy their movies overbaked, under served and lacking of any original idea whatsoever. It is a movie made by people who watched “Saturday Night Fever” and “Rebel Without a Cause” one evening while stoned out of their minds and decided to remake it into one movie. Those two films are justifiable classics of the “troubled youth” genre. This is a mess from start to finish.

With three possible exceptions.

I. Dianne Wiest who deservedly won two Best Supporting Actress Oscars for her brilliant comic performances in two terrific Woody Allen flicks is still a wonderful actress. All those years of playing a talking head on “Law & Order” haven’t diminished her ability to inhabit a character fully, no matter how trivial the role. And this role is fairly trivial. She portrays Dito’s mother, a woman born and raised in the kitchen wearing worn out slippers, a house dress and a continually frazzled expression. The opening scene where she telephones the now adult Dito to beg him to return to see his ailing father one last time is heartbreaking due entirely to Miss Wiest’s talent. And then we barely see her utter two words for the rest of the movie. A near total waste of her vast talent.

II. Shia LaBeouf, who portrays the young Dito throughout the film. We first noticed his wonderful acting skills in the recent children’s near classic, “Holes”. If you haven’t seen that film, or more importantly if your children or any children you might know haven’t seen it. Go rent it now! Hell, steal some children and force them to watch it. It is a wonderful modern fairy tale replete with great performances, a clever script and fine direction by Andrew Davis.

III. Channing Tatum. Or more specifically, Channing Tatum’s chest. Okay, his charisma ain’t bad either. This young slab of beef saunters onto the screen with the kind of screen charisma not seen since the early days of such marquee names as Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson or a young Clint Eastwood.

He owns every scene he is in from by the sheer magnetism oozing from his muscular frame and well toned limbs. And being that the childhood scenes, in which Mr. Tatum plays a large role, are supposed to occur during one particularly sweaty New York summer, we get to see a good portion of Mr. Tatum’s impressive skills. He isn’t a bad actor either. As long as his film dialogue is limited to "Fuck" and "Yo!".

The rest of the film plays like a drug induced hazy recollection of lost childhood memories. It doesn’t help matters that the adult performances are so truncated that the central conceit of memory and present day finally melding into one cohesive moment never arrives.

Robert Downey Jr. as the adult Dito attempts to salvage what little screen time or intelligent dialogue he has. As one of the most talented actors of his generation, his side tracked career has never fully recovered. He still has plenty of talent left to burn and we hope that some intelligent producer or director recognizes this and finds the appropriate vehicle. Such a shame.

As the ailing father, Oscar nominee Chazz Palminteri is little more than a series of ticks and postures designed to imply that the main problem with Dito’s childhood was his blustering father’s lack of masculine presence. The exaggerated attention that Chazz pays to Channing Tatum’s character supplants the father / son dynamic. We suppose this is meant to be more profound. It isn’t.

The remainder of the cast is filled out with young actors portraying the neighborhood friends and enemies of the young Dito to varied success. Adam Scarimbolo is appropriately zoned out as the substance abusing brother to Channing Tatum, whose scrambled sense of reality causes the turning point in young Dito’s life.

As young Dito’s love interest, Melonie Diaz is fine in an “Afterschool Special” sort of way. And as her adult counterpart, the lovely Rosario Dawson remains just that.

Lovely to look at and little else. Her confrontation scene with the adult Dito meant to shake sense into his confused memory obsessed world comes off as shrill and one note. Perhaps she could find a nice perfume campaign to work on next. That would require less skill and focus on her sole assets.

When the film finally and blissfully winds down to it’s less than impressive finale, we were hoping to see Eric Roberts finally appear. This one time heartthrob and Oscar nominated elder brother to you know who, was one of our favorite actors in his blistering youth. His performance in Bob Fosse’sStar 80” is one of the great unsung acting roles in any actor’s resume.

When we saw his name in the opening credits, we had hoped that his role would be worth his talent. Imagine our shock with this withered carcass of a human being finally appeared, portraying the adult version of Channing Tatum!!!! Unless Channing’s character aged in a pressure cooker, there is simply no way in hell that he would end up looking like the battered wreck that ambles across the screen.

A sad, pathetic weak ending to a sad, pathetic exercise in self absorption. Thank God, that James Frey was so shamed into semi-retirement that we can hopefully avoid his directorial debut in adapting his own overbaked tale to the screen. Do yourselves a favor. Avoid this film like an open abscess. Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Dito Montiel

Robert Downey Jr. as Dito
Shia LaBeouf as Young Dito
Chazz Palminteri as Monty
Dianne Wiest as Flori
Channing Tatum as Antonio
Adam Scarimbolo as Giuseppe
Martin Compston as Mike O’Shea
Anthony DeSando as Frank
Rosario Dawson as Laurie
Melonie Diaz as Young Laurie
Julia Garro as Diane Honeyman
Eric Roberts as Older Antonio
Kyle Devon Benitez as Joey
Scott Michael Campbell as Nerf
Peter Anthony Tambakis as Young Nerf
Federico Castelluccio as Antonio’s Father

Cinematography by Eric Gautier
Film Editing by Jake Pushinsky & Christopher Tellefsen
Original Music by Jonathan Elias, Jimmy Haun & David Wittman
Production Design by Jody Asnes
Set Decoration by Cherish Magennis
Costume Design by Sandra Hernandez



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