Retro Film Review: Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995)

in #film6 months ago


(SPECIAL NOTE: Capsule version of the review is available here.)

One year after Pulp Fiction the public and the critics were so hungry for Tarantino's films that they were attributing Tarantinoesque qualities to films that had little to do with 1990s film guru. That is the best explanation for high standing of Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, 1995 black comedy directed by Gary Fleder.

Protagonist of the film is Jimmy Saint (played by Andy Garcia), former gangster who runs "Afterlife Advice", service that videotapes terminally ill people giving advice to their surviving loved ones. The business was slow lately and Jimmy is in desperate need for cash. The solution comes in the form of The Man With Plan (played by Christopher Walken), sinister quadriplegic crime lord that offers financial assistance in exchange for one favour. Crime lord's son Bernard (played by Michael Nicolosi) has been acting strangely since the break-up with his girlfriend, so Jimmy must re-unite the couple by roughing up girl's current boyfriend. Jimmy gathers group of his old associates for the job, but the plan ends disastrously wrong. Jimmy and his men now must await crime lord's wrath that comes in the form of Mister Shhh (played by Steve Buscemi), deadly assassin.

The only things that this film has in common with Pulp Fiction are botched crime as the element of plot and two cast members (Buscemi and Walken). Actually, any kind of comparison between Tarantino's and Fleder's film is going be disastrous for the latter. Scott Rosenberg's script is unfocused and desperately tries to be "hip" (characters using their own, incomprehensible jargon, in order to sound "cool" is just one of the examples). This film's comedy credentials are also questionable - for the most part this film is not particularly funny. Fleder doesn't help with slow pace and allows too much scenes that belong to sentimental drama rather than comedy. But the biggest problem of the film is the fact that the audience can't accept characters as believable human beings. Jimmy the Saint is the best example - he is played by Andy Garcia and acts with such Samaritan zeal that it is easier to imagine him trying to block Israeli bulldozers at West Bank with his body than touching any of this film's criminal elements with ten foot pole. Many great acting talents are wasted, most notably Treat Williams in the role of psychopathic Critical Bill, impressive character whose brief appearance is one of few reasons why Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead is not complete waste of time. All those who expect anything resembling Tarantino's films are going to be utterly disappointed, though.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on April 2nd 2003)


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