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Welcome to Collinwood

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 08/21/03 17:02:36

"Keep 'em coming, Clooney. I'm in for the long haul."
3 stars (Average)

You have to hand it to George Clooney. The guy could totally sell out, Sandler-style, and simply spend the next ten years cashing in his fame and fanbase for eighty million pieces of silver, taking any contract going and generally churning out crap for the mighty dollar. Why shouldn't he? Everyone else does. But Clooney is a different beast. He rather enjoys the creative process, and having done his fair share of money-making horse doody in his early years in acting, he's now in a position where he can say to a financier, "Yes, I will make your garbage film. But before I do, you must fund this quirky, limited-audience film starring unknown people who deserve more work." With that in mind, welcome to Welcome to Collinwood.

What's the worlds' most overused movie plot base? Come on now, think it over. Would it be the crazy cop and the good cop being forced to work together? Maybe the terrible sporting team that will be broken up if they don't win the championship? What about Tom Cruise being too scared to do something he's good at, then finding his balls and winning the big race?

These are all worthy entries in the lexicon of 'this again?' - but they're not the winner of king kahuna 'this again' Hall of Fame legendary status. No, that would go to the 'misfit thieves stumble across a massive payday, but screw up their plans and get into trouble' routine.

Ah yes. That old chestnut.

So Cosimo (Luis Guzman) is in jail, which sucks for him because he's been given some information by a lifer that could lead him to a job so big, it could be his 'bulini' (translated: a one-time big ass haul). So Cosimo asks his girlfriend (Patricia Clarkson) to find him a malinski (translated: patsy, fool, fall guy) to take the blame for his crime, so that he can get out early and pull the big job.

Which proves harder than she thought. Before long, the cat's out of the bag and Cosimo's old gang (William H. Macy, Michael Jeter, Isaiah Washington, Andrew Davoli) catch wind of the gig, all the while refusing the chance to do jail time for the big guy.

Enter Pero (the always awesome Sam Rockwell), a terrible boxer with big dreams and a shortage of cash. He agrees to take the fall, but screws up the court case, fools Cosimo into parting with the bulini, and decides to do the job himself.

So it's Pero vs gang vs jailed tough guy vs people who would otherwise be burgled. Starting to see where all this is going? Now add a love interest (Jennifer Esposito) and you're looking at ten parts farce, three parts slapstick, many parts funny.

But not every part.

While writer/directors the Russo Brothers, Anthony and Greg, certainly have a knack for quirkiness, when more depth is required they seem either unable or unwilling to provide. Clooney's cameo as a paralyzed safecracker is VERY funny, but not all that right for the tone of the film, and while Michael Jeter always seems to lose his pants in every film he's in, we could have done without the up-butt, pants-free shot of him hanging from the side of a building. Oof-ah.

The performances are mostly strong, the jokes mostly on-target, but something's missing here and perhaps it comes down to those leading the ship. While the Russo's have made two films prior to Collinwood, neither were largely seen, and both starred one of the brothes in a major role. They're from the cheap seats and Collinwood's production shows that background, as every scene seems to look like a set. There's a feeling of smallness about Collinwood that may well have been a deliberate attempt to make the film feel like a stageplay, but isn't all that comfortable to sit through and tends to bring the performances down a notch.

Clooney's penchant for using Sam Rockwell as a lead is not only smart, but it's also indicative of the way Clooney is doing business as a producer. Rockwell has been a heavy presence in a lot of films over the years, from comedies (Galaxy Quest, Safe Men) to action (Heist) to soppy fare (Green Mile) to drama (Lawn Dogs). He's come a long way since the days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and smart watchers tagged him a long time ago for glory, but Rockwell's not exactly your classic Freddie Prinze Jr vanilla glamorboy, so it's taken someone with a little weight in the industry to finally crack him as a legit star.

And that seems to be what this film is really about - making Rockwell legit. Everyone else in the cast is either already a presence in Hollywood or at the very least a respected character actor, and there's certainly not the massive box office appeal that would normally accompany a Clooney appearance. In the end, Welcome To Collinwood, while enjoyable and certainly worth seeing, just seems to be light in the loafers, or perhaps missing something that pieces it all together and makes it great.

But heck, who really cares? So the thing isn't perfect - I dare say the producers didn't have a giant budget to throw around and they've done pretty well with what they had. Collinwood is certainly one dimensional, but it's a nice dimension. Pleasant. Smile-inducing. Fun.

If this review seems confused, that's because even after watching the film for a second time, I'm still trying to figure whether it tried for quirk and got it right, or tried for more and failed. But the mere fact that I could watch it twice in quick succession probably tells you all you need to know about whether it's an enjoyable way to spend 86 minutes or not. Certainly worth the cost of a ticket, Welcome to Collinwood will be welcome enough in my home when it hits DVD.

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