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"WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD"
(2002) (William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Petty thieves and lowlifes face various complications as they try to orchestrate and pull off breaking into a jewelry store safe.
PLOT:
Somewhere in Cleveland, not long ago, Cosimo (LUIS GUZMAN) and Toto (MICHAEL JETER) are two petty thieves trying to steal a car. Cosimo is caught and ends up in prison where his lifer cellmate tells him about a terrific heist opportunity. It seems that the man was the bricklayer who helped refurbish the old flour factory building into a jewelry store and apartment.

Needing to get out to take the job, Cosimo doesn't his girlfriend, Rosalind (PATRICIA CLARKSON), the details, but does want her to find a patsy who will take the fall for the grand theft auto case. She goes to see the nebbish Toto who then goes to see Basil (ANDREW DAVOLI). He doesn't want to do it, even for $15,000, but says they should see Leon (ISAIAH WASHINGTON) who may know of someone who could use the money in exchange for the time.

He can't since his sister, Michelle (GABRIELLE UNION), is getting married, but suggests that they see Riley (WILLIAM H. MACY). He's a former photographer who's now raising his infant son by himself while his wife is in prison, but he believes that boxer Pero (SAM ROCKWELL) might be their man.

After losing his latest bout, Pero agrees but is so bad at taking the rap that Cosimo gets more time added to his sentence. Thinking Pero's stuck there with him, Cosimo informs him of the details and Pero thanks him as he leaves on probation. The rest of the gang then forces the details of the job from him, and soon they bring in Jerzy (GEORGE CLOONEY), a wheelchair-bound safecracking whiz who now teaches others the tricks of the trade.

Meanwhile, Pero starts seeing Carmela (JENNIFER ESPOSITO), the bewitching maid who works for the elderly ladies who've now moved into what was the vacant apartment and entry point into the jewelry store. As more complications arise, including the presence of Detective Babitch (DAVID WARSHOFSKY), the bumbling thieves try to pull off their heist and dream of what they'll do with the reported $300,000 in the store's safe.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
When a woman asks a guy - who's trying to pick her up for romantic and other hidden reasons - whether they can meet at his place, it's usually not a good idea for him to reply in the negative due to the place being deloused. Then again, most smart people aren't attempting to rob a jewelry store and need to get to know the woman since the apartment where she works just so happens to share a common wall with that establishment.

That's just one of the goofy situations in "Welcome to Collinwood," a generally amusing crime caper that swings a lot, but rarely hits any out of the cinematic ballpark. Even so, it's consistent enough in its setup and delivery so as to be moderately entertaining.

Sharing quite a few plot and character similarities to Woody Allen's 2000 comedy, "Small Time Crooks," the film is actually a remake of the 1958 Italian film, "Big Deal on Madonna Street," that starred Marcello Mastroianni and others as criminals with a similar motive.

Like both of those pictures, this one features a bunch of bumbling and not altogether bright petty thieves and lowlifes who get wrapped up in the idea of breaking into a jewelry store safe (as compared to a loan office in "Madonna Street" and a bank in "Crooks") via the building next door.

The brotherly writing and directing duo of Anthony Russo and Joe Russo ("Pieces") also follows the same pattern of introducing various comical complications and setbacks to the point that you'll wonder if the characters will ever be able to overcome them or their basic ineptness.

Accordingly, the film plays off the old saying regarding the best laid plans of mice and men, except that the mice might be more capable as the plans aren't exactly the best. That's part of the fun, and while the film is rarely, if ever, over-the-top hilarious, I did find myself laughing or chuckling on far more than one occasion.

If there's one major fault to this comedy of errors it's that it never really gets out of second gear. One constantly wants the proceedings to be hilarious, zany or contain fun and highly imaginative obstacles. Unfortunately, the film never gets up a full head of steam in terms of that or its pacing and thus might disappoint those looking for something a bit more frenetic.

For the most part, the performances are similarly restrained, but otherwise are solid across the board and everybody seems to enjoy embodying their characters. The biggest star - George Clooney ("Ocean's Eleven," "The Perfect Storm") - gets the funniest but briefest part - but the likes of William H. Macy ("State and Main," "Magnolia"), Michael Jeter ("The Gift," "The Green Mile"), Luis Guzman ("Punch Drunk Love," "Traffic") and Isaiah Washington ("Exit Wounds," "Romeo Must Die") get some amusing moments.

Yet, the filmmakers miss the boat on some characters, such as the one played by Sam Rockwell ("Heist," "Charlie's Angels"). While there's a decent subplot featuring his growing attraction to the aforementioned maid played by Jennifer Esposito ("Don't Say a Word," "The Bachelor"), a key element is misplayed. Since he's a boastful but unsuccessful pugilist in the ring, a funny running gag could have had him always getting beaten up outside it, despite whatever bravado he might present. Instead, the filmmakers opt for the exact opposite that isn't as inherently funny.

Nothing particular novel or memorable, the film is amusing enough to earn a passing grade and comes off as an entertaining diversion. "Welcome to Collinwood" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed October 14, 2002 / Posted October 18, 2002


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