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"THE CREW"
(2000) (Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Hoping to keep the rent on their rundown apartments in check, four former wiseguys hatch a plan that quickly spirals out of control for them.
PLOT:
At the rundown Raj Mahal residence hotel in swanky South Beach, Miami, former wiseguys Bobby Bartellemeo (RICHARD DREYFUSS), Joey "Bats" Pistella (BURT REYNOLDS), Mike "The Brick" Donatelli (DAN HEDAYA) and Tony "The Mouth" Donato (SEYMOUR CASSEL) have found that life has passed them by. While they were once fast running, young criminals in control of their destinies, they're now senior citizens who are facing eviction from their apartment homes due to newly imposed higher rents.

Resorting to their old ways, the guys come up with a plan to save their homes. As such, they take an unclaimed body from the mortuary where Brick works as a makeup artist and leave it in the lobby of their hotel with a shotgun wound to the head, knowing that such a presumably unsolvable murder will make their places less attractive and thus keep their rent in check.

The only problem is that the "victim" was the senile father of Raul Ventana (MIGUEL SANDOVAL), a South American drug lord who now believes someone's trying to send him a threatening message. Thus, he sends out his thugs to take care of the problem, but little do they know who's really responsible. The same holds true for detectives and former lovers, Olivia Neal (CARRIE-ANNE MOSS) and Steve Menteer (JEREMY PIVEN), who are now working the apparent homicide and believe the old men to be potential witnesses.

If that's not bad enough, the normally silent Mouth decides to blab about everything after having sex with a local stripper/prostitute, Ferris Lowenstein (JENNIFER TILLY), who in turn then decides to blackmail the wiseguys into murdering her stepmother, Pepper Lowenstein (LAINIE KAZAN), lest she spill the beans about what she now knows.

Contemplating their options, the four men must then figure out how to deal with Ferris, Ventana and his thugs, and Menteer and Neal, the latter of whom has a special connection with Bobby, all of which further complicates their once simple plan that's now spiraling out of control.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In years to come, when people look back on what may ultimately be called the Senior Citizen Renaissance or the AARP Revitalization Movement in the world of entertainment, they'll wonder exactly when that era of older folks once again getting prominent roles began.

Was it with Ron Howard's "Cocoon" or the TV show "The Golden Girls?" Perhaps it was Steven Spielberg's segment,"Kick the Can," from "Twilight Zone: The Movie." Then again, a more likely bet would be the combination of Matthau and Lemmon making audiences laugh in those "Grumpy Old Men" movies.

Whatever the catalyst, senior citizens are suddenly now back in vogue, which really shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering that their age bracket is the fastest growing demographic in the country. As a result, older fictitious characters are moving out of the nursing homes and Floridian retirement communities to appear in TV commercials (such as the "Got Milk" one featuring the old codgers who head-butt some "younger" troublemakers) and popular films (such as the recently released "Space Cowboys" where Eastwood and company show they still have the right stuff to entertain moviegoers).

That trend now continues with "Grumpy Old Gangsters," I mean "The Crew," an amusing tale of four goodfellas who come out of retirement to set some matters straight. Of course, they end up inadvertently causing more problems then were there or they originally bargained for, and must then figure out how to rectify them.

To anyone who pays attention to Hollywood trends, they'll realize that organized crime comedies - just like those senior citizens - are the hot thing now and have supplanted the Scorsese, Coppola, et al mob dramas that populated the cinema during the '70s and '80s. While the plot featuring the innocent dupe getting caught up with the mob generated its share of laughs in films such as "Analyze This" and "Mickey Blue Eyes," it's seemingly (and thankfully) appears to have run its course.

As such, director Michael Dinner ("Hot to Trot," "Heaven Help Us"), who works from a script by screenwriter Barry Fanaro ("Kingpin," TV's "The Golden Girls") wisely chose another route, this time answering the old question regarding whatever happens to old mobsters who aren't dead or serving time in prison due to their former "business practices." Of course, this isn't the first film to play off the "mobster coming out of retirement" plot - "My Blue Heaven" did it in 1990 - and thus this film won't win any points for complete originality.

Nonetheless, it's a basically entertaining diversion that benefits from a good cast and a generally amusing plot. Playing off the "things could be worse" and "the best laid plans of mice and men" themes, the film zips along from start to finish, adding one complication after another to the old gangsters' simple plot of trying to introduce some rent control into their otherwise now boring lives.

While the filmmakers perhaps aren't as imaginative or clever and don't go as far with such humorous impediments as I personally would have liked to have seen (especially considering the mob related elements), there's enough present to keep things fairly lively and enjoyable throughout the film's quickly paced ninety some minute runtime.

Perhaps it's part of the thematic joke about what time does to people, but none of the four central performers exactly look or act like former mobsters. Much like Steven Martin's character in "My Blue Heaven," these guys are exasperated, fish out of water types who can't believe what's befallen them. Yet, where Martin was believable - albeit in an exaggerated, comical way - as a mobster, Richard Dreyfuss ("Mr. Holland's Opus," "What About Bob"), Burt Reynolds ("Mystery, Alaska," "Boogie Nights"), Dan Hedaya ("Shaft," "Dick") and Seymour Cassel ("Rushmore," "Tin Men") often feel more like old Hollywood actors dressing up and goofing around like retired gangsters rather than credibly (but humorously) coming off as the real thing.

It's certainly not a horrible fault and some viewers might not have the same reaction, and the performers manage to overcome that deficiency by participating in some funny moments. The best comes from Reynolds as a cantankerous old sort who's irked about the old hand that life has dealt him and takes it out on nearly everyone around him. While he's not old enough to elicit the laughs that say, the great Walter Matthau did in the "Grumpy" films, he still delivers an enjoyable performance.

Supporting performances are generally okay with Carrie-Anne Moss ("Red Planet," "The Matrix") playing the "straight man" part in a father/daughter subplot with Dreyfuss that's supposed to give the film some heart and emotional grounding, but didn't really do much for me due to the contrived way in which it's presented. Jennifer Tilly ("Bound," "Bullets Over Broadway") delivers yet another variation of her buxom but venomous doll character with the wispy voice, while Miguel Sandoval ("Get Shorty," "Clear and Present Danger") gets a lot of comical mileage out of his stereotypical, but constantly irritated drug kingpin role.

While nothing special and certainly not guilty of stomping down on the comedy accelerator and kicking the proceedings into fourth gear, the film is a generally amusing and entertaining, if instantly forgettable diversion. Considering the spate of so many bad films that have recently been released, you could certainly do a lot worse than that. Enjoyable but clearly not a classic, "The Crew" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed August 21, 2000 / Posted August 25, 2000


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