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Frogs for Snakes

Rated R, 115 min. Directed by Amos Poe. Starring Barbara Hershey, Clarence Williams III, Ron Perlman, Debi Mazar, Lisa Marie, John Leguizamo, Ian Hart, Harry Hamlin, Robbie Coltrane, Nick Chinlund.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 28, 1999

With an all-star cast like this, you'd think Poe's film would be a knockout indie smash, a character-driven acting spree or maybe a quiet reflection on the fine art of the smirk. You'd be wrong, of course, but no one could fault you for hoping. On paper, Poe's humorous take on actors and gangsters and the merging of the two (he also penned the script) must have read like comic gangbusters, but the finished product is more histrionics than hysterical. Poe (Alphabet City, Blank Generation) has indie cred to burn, and from the looks of Frogs for Snakes, he's been busy banking the pyre for some time, leaving the audience to poke amongst the embers for signs of a salvageable story. Alas, it's not here. Hershey, whose career has spanned everything from early Scorsese (1972's Boxcar Bertha) to the recent James Ivory production A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (we'll just forget about Swing Kids) is the nexus of Amos' film as well as its saving grace. She plays Eva, a sometime New York City actor (and mom) given to off-of-Broadway productions staged by mobster-cum-theatre impresario Al Santana (Coltrane). Disillusioned with the direction her acting life is headed, she bides her time between waitressing jobs, acting gigs, and an ongoing stint as Santana's “collector,” a roughhouse odd job that should prepare her for the stage version of Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45 sequel, should anyone ever decide to mount it. When her lover/acting buddy Zip (Leguizamo, running hot in a very brief role) is shot by one of Santana's web of thugs, the stage is set for, well, plenty of conflicted emotions, allegiances, and unending streams of monologues appropriated from all sorts of sources. Santana, meanwhile, has decided to stage Mamet's American Buffalo, for which all of the characters here are going to end up vying for roles (Hamlin's Klensch in particular), while bitter rivalries between ex-lovers add yet more fuel to an already over-burdened conflagration. Indie-film stalwarts such as Perlman, Mazar, and Williams amble or jump in and out of scenes like they wandered in from next door for coffee while shooting the sequel to Wayne Wang's Blue in the Face. Occasionally, Poe will gussy up the non-action by freezing the tail ends of scenes, but most of the proceedings drag on endlessly. It's an exercise in so what? filmmaking that has marked the restless, ambivalent edge of American indie filmmaking for some time (Tom DiCillo's meandering Box of Moonlight springs to mind as a good example of this). Actors may well salivate with giddy glee over this Lower East Side take on their Art, but for the rest of us it's an exercise in ennui.
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