Dallas 362

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/24/03 08:32:12

"An Assured Debut For Scott Caan"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2003 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: The Best Friend/Troublemaker has been a thematic staple through hordes of independent celluloid dating back to Mean Streets and beyond. Itís an easy groundwork to lay with the yin-and-yang dynamic providing a one-dimensional springboard that just about any aspiring filmmaker can use to jump off of. Scott Caan has made that leap from actor to debut screenwriter/director. But before you vault on the yet another Hollywood son using his way into the independent ocean bandwagon, oh ye of little faith should be aware that Dallas 362 is as assured a debut as Iíve seen on the film festival circuit this year.

The Dallas of the title has a double meaning, but for all immediate intents and purposes refers to the troublemaker portion of the duo played by Caan himself. The other half is Rusty (Shawn Hatosy), who has been living in the bars and poolhalls of life since Dallas rescued himself from a potentially horrifying beating some years ago. Seemingly starting or participating in a fight every time they go out, Rustyís mom, Mary (Kelly Lynch), has him take a meeting with Bob (Jeff Goldblum), her current boyfriend and an understanding shrink to boot.

Rusty hasnít had too many dreams living in the small Texas town, but at heart heís a good kid who would like to pick up where his late dad left off, wrestling down cattle at the rodeo. Dallas has loftier get-rich-quicker ideas though since his current duties collecting for the local bookie doesnít satisfy except as a potential to workout his fists. He wants Rusty by his side for the big score, but he knows better while it both strengthens and complicates his desire to leave the only real family he has and start over.

On the surface, the comparisons to Good Will Hunting are obvious minus the genius aspect but that doesnít mean that Dallas 362 isnít smart. Caan avoids almost all of the traps that this material can fall through and which have had audiences falling repeatedly. Dallas has all the earmarks of the irredeemable instigator, but here transcends that not in some big moment of truth but by applying the disadvantages of his own actions as to not force his friendís hand. His friendship is defined clearly when he talks himself into taking on a paranoid loser as his partner (Val Lauren), rather than get his buddy into another fix of his own making. Itís great to not only see a character like this accept his own destiny and to not feel betrayed even through the disappointment he feels that him and Rusty may not be friends til the end.

Hatosy, in turn, also delivers his finest performance to date. Rustyís early choices in the film, mainly concerning his selection of friends, are questionable at best. But its clear even through his initial therapy conversation that heís not the typical standoff-ish mad-at-the-world stereotype. He listens and heís got something to say, most notably in a wonderful monologue with his mother describing what was going through his mind during his latest rumble. Goldblum is also terrific as the compassionate psychiatrist who must walk a delicate balance between listening to Rusty and not betraying the trust of the mother he deeply cares about. Lauren teeters dangerously close to going just too over-the-top with his whiny paranoid ranting, but thereís no shortage of terrific performances all around backed up with the likes of small cameos by a colorful roundhouse including Selma Blair, Bob Gunton, Marley Shelton, Heavy D and a hilarious turn by Six Feet Underís Freddy Rodriguez as a wannabe thief.

Scott Caan has been an enjoyable presence in movies (Varsity Blues, Novocaine, Oceanís Eleven) but his confident eye behind the camera and on the page is even more noteworthy. Having written and directed a few theatrical productions, thereís a bit of staginess to some of the scenes which is easily overcome by the performances and the written word. But flashes like the dazzling opening credit sequence and the staging of a heist to the tune of Giorgio Moroderís Midnight Express score show off both a patience and a flair that hotshot newcomers can tear a page out of. When itís all over, the titleís double meaning comes into focus and turns into the trifecta realization that Caan may soon be destined for greater things.

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