Nervous Norvus? Anyone? ...ah, forget it.
I think that's a nevertheless important obscure reference, because that's actually about all the mirthmaking you're going to find in the movie. If you're expecting the joie de vivre of GoodFellas, turn away now. It's ALL business here. All bleak, joyless business. Even more so than Donnie Brasco.
Personally, I knew we were in trouble with the opening credits. Papyrus font? I'm sorry. That's not for a gangster / numbers movie. That's more of an outdoors adventure movie font. That's more of a Smoke Signals font... okay, opening credits sequence. But they do have two GoodFellas alumni in the opening scene: Billy Batts and Tony Stacks. (Not Stacks Edwards. Different guy.) Also, Freddie Prinze Jr. plays Tony Cicero, and Frank DiLeo plays Tuddy Cicero in GoodFellas. Just so's ya know. Just so's you're up to speed.
Anyway, the plot. It's nothing short of a tale of generational shift. Learn these lessons well, my friend, for they will be repeated in oh so many ways throughout the course of yon viewing experience. Peter Falk plays Vinnie, a bar owner and bookie. He runs a nice clean book, and he's a respected member of the neighborhood, wherever it's supposed to take place. Probably Toronto. His house looked like the neighbor's house in Malice, which I have also seen recently, so it was a bit fresh in the old noggin, but we'll save that for the advanced class. Anyway, so Vinnie's set to retire in a year, a bit of a departure from the usual retirement in two weeks we so often see in the movies. At the same time, on the gangster side, the bosses want to train Tony to take over the numbers racket, or at least, a numbers internship, which is kinda what he ends up turning it into. We see Freddie Prinze Jr. as a hotshot partyboy who likes to live in the fast lane, and his character is as well. Sorry, had to go for it. Also, he's told to treat this Vinnie situation carefully. No "cowboy stuff." Another recurring theme you're in for should you sign up for this journey.
A seemingly disconnected story thread is the story of Marybeth and Frankie. Marybeth works at the factory with Vinnie's wife, Ellen, played by Tyne Daly, the secret heart of the pic. You might think it's Freddie Prinze Jr., but believe me, Daly will change your mind about that. She's a good sport here, taking some ribbing about her weight, and putting the Dreyer's ice cream away. Lauren Holly plays Marybeth, and Timothy Hutton plays Frankie. One of my viewing companions noted that Hutton seemed miscast as the drunken lowlife Frankie, but we know better, don't we, folks? Just kidding. But they're so picky. They obviously haven't seen The Dark Half... come to think of it, he does kinda phone it in.
I guess my only complaint with the movie is that it's kind of a TV movie. And looking at its IMDb entry, it does have that dreaded "(TV)" next to the title! So all we don't know is what channel this premiered on. Director Graham Theakston does seem to be a TV-exclusive director. I mean, isn't life hard enough, folks? Who needs the pressure of a theatrical release? It did look pretty good in HD, I guess.. As for Vig scripter Hapenny, well, it appears he got disillusioned with the biz after this. It couldn't provide him any traction. I mean, he did everything he was told to do! He went to screenwriter college. He did EVERYTHING the teachers and the books told him to. Plot, characters, conflicts, scenes, climaxes... what more do us greedy bastards want? No, no. Don't answer that. Let him find out the hard way. Like Leslie Dixon.
As for the acting, Falk and Daly do fine. The GoodFellas guys do fine, although I did call the part where the guy says "Hey! Who invited you to sit down?" I have a witness, I swear. I got confused at one point and thought Hutton's character was supposed to be mentally challenged, but no, just a drunk. Lauren Holly was perhaps too convincing as the harried wife and mother working two jobs. Is she still in the biz? Life's just damn unfair, girlfriend! You should be out there shaking a leg! You should be dressed up like in Ford Fairlane! Oooh, baby! You shoulda landed a role in Lord of the Rings as Galadriel's hot sister! Guess you never shoulda married Jim Carrey. Oh well. It all worked out. As for Freddie Prinze Jr., well, he should stick to the Scooby Doo roles. I was reminded of Jon Bon Jovi in Pay it Forward. He was supposed to be playing a real jerk, but I could tell he didn't want to play it as a real son of a bitch. He wasn't committed like Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade was committed. Actually, that comparison doesn't really apply, because Prinze had a far greater burden on his shoulders. And really, I've gone on for far too long, because we gave up on the movie after Prinze decides to take out Timothy Hutton's exorbitant payment in "trade" from Lauren Holly. Sorry, but it was one against two to quit the movie. I really wanted to finish! I really did!... No, wait. I remembered that wrong. I also voted against watching further. Reminds me of the Monty Python Piranha Brothers sketch, wherein the gangsters eventually figure out to charge people money for not beating them up. They go through the other three possibilities first.
-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan