BEHIND EVERY MAN IS A WOMAN WHO IS JUST AS FUNNY: Luis Guzman stars in PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS
Tying with ANOTHER 48. HRS in the most-prosaic-film-title category, PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS is about just what it says it is about. Wonderful character actor Luis Guzman is given a lead, and why the hell not? He teams with Edgar Garcia as NYC cops who end up nonsensically involved in an attempt to ferret out an insider who is blackmailing the French designer of a high-end bag, winningly played by an endearing Alice Taglioni. The frivolous film is agreeable enough, barely at 80 minutes without its extended ending credits, more latter-day Abbot and Costello than top-level Hope & Crosby, with scenes generally remaining amiable without much depth or payoff. While Guzman and Garcia earn some laughs, it’s the women who walk off with the show. Beyond Taglioni, Julie Ferrier as a harried prime suspect, Miriam Shor as a perky NY police officer, and Lilou Fogli, quite funny as a self-absorbed model with a thing for gin and cocaine, the two best (brief) performances are by Rosie Perez as the long-suffering wife of Garcia and sister of Guzman, and Rosario Dawson, who steals every scene she’s in as Guzman’s girlfriend. An exceptional actress, Dawson is inventive and funny in the lamentably small part, making each gesture count, without calling undue attention to herself. Directed by Ian Edelman, PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS apparently couldn’t afford the boisterous old-fashioned car chase that might have ended an A &C film, or at least a Poitier-Cosby teaming, but there are some nice exterior shots of Paris, although much of the film was shot in Prague.
THE GREAT, ERRATIC ORIGINAL IS BACK: Nicolas Cage in THE TRUST
Nicolas Cage, one of our great erratic originals, gives one of his vigilant, robust performances in the intriguing black-comedy caper film THE TRUST, directed by brothers Alex and Ben Brewer, where you feel he’s giving his whole being to the part rather than depressingly sinking into the role and “behaving” himself as he has done recently in minor works like PAY THE GHOST and LEFT BEHIND, the ridiculous end-of-times Christian movie that could have used a little of his unhinged virtuosity. In THE TRUST, he’s a detective (dad played by Jerry Lewis!) who teams up with fellow hapless officer Elijah Wood to rob a Los Vegas drug dealer, and, of course, little goes right for the pair. This is the kind of little caper film that would be revered if it was 40 years old, playing at some revival house alongside THE OUTFIT and ACROSS 110th STREET. It’s not brilliant, but it provides an odd kind of nasty, paranoid entertainment. It shouldn’t be unnoticed.
TWISTED LOVE: Adrien Brody, Yvonne Strahovski, and Campbell Scott in MANHATTAN NIGHT
Campbell Scott, George C. Scott’s son, a brilliant actor seemingly uninterested in stardom, gives one of his funny inventive performances as the dead husband of sexy femme fatale Yvonne Strahovski, in MANHATTAN NIGHT, written and directed by Brian DeCubellis and based on the 1996 novel MANHATTAN NOCTURNE (a better title) by Colin Harrison. Strahovski lures a Breslin-like newspaper reporter, Adrien Brody, to investigate the shady details surrounding Scott’s death. The film, focusing on a “notorious” newspaper reporter, has been made a little late in the day, and the material can’t seem to decide if it wants to be somewhat refined or over-the-top sleazy, never quite coming together. MANHATTAN NIGHT is hounded around the byways of memory by similar, more successful films with larger budgets (although, to its credit, NIGHT was shot entirely in New York City), but does sustain interest in its puzzle to the end, largely because of its cast. Strahovski is an appealing actor who doesn’t overplay her archetypal character, Brody can relax in front of the camera and still be commanding, and Scott is Scott. He has actively circumvented stardom despite winning lead turns in films like ROGER DODGER, MRS. PARKER & THE VICIOUS CIRCLE, and SINGLES, apparently more interested in a Denholm Elliotish career of taking memorable smaller parts, slipping in and out of odd character parts like this and the one he’s played for several years on ROYAL PAINS while continuing to be a strong lead in theater, most recently in the triumphant revival of Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF on Broadway. Scott’s knowing performances make the audience feel like they’re in on the joke, without looking down on us or the material. It’s a showy roll (he’s a cruel mental Machiavelli with shadowy motives), and his performance is full of affectations, wonderfully so.
It’s a pity the film doesn’t go a little deeper down the rabbit hole of sordid shenanigans, as its efforts to maintain a tasteful distance from what is unspooling keep it (and the Brody character, who is ultimately a bit of a plodding cipher) away from the warped madness that might have made it rise above its orthodoxy. DeCubellis does allow Scott and Strahovski disquieting moments that show what a perfect version of MANHATTAN NIGHT could have been. Their unhinged marriage is the most interesting thing about the movie, and they make the most of their many shared flashbacks.