1996, R, 92 min. Directed by Alan Taylor. Starring Adam Trese, Vincent Gallo, William Forsythe, Frances Mcdormand.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 13, 1996
Remember that scene between Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger in the back seat of a car in On the Waterfront, the one in which Brando self-deprecatingly calls himself a “bum” who is (to paraphrase) on “a one-way ticket to Palookaville”? The straits in which the three guys in Palookaville find themselves aren't as dramatically extreme as Brando's Terry Malloy, but they're nonetheless grim. Out of work and with no prospects for the future, these down-on-their-luck twentysomethings decide that the only way to get ahead is to rob something, but there's one problem: They're just fellas, not goodfellas. No matter how desperate their situation, they don't have the heart to be criminals; even when presented with the opportunity to strike it rich, they act like good Samaritans rather than thieves. Rich in human comic detail, Palookaville is a wonderful surprise, a little movie that exceeds every expectation. Featuring these extremely engaging actors as its leads -- Trese, Gallo, and Forsythe -- the dramatic tension here comes from your fear that the frustrations of these Jersey boys might ultimately lead to something that they'll (and you'll) regret. In other words, as corny as it may sound, you find yourself really caring about these guys and hoping that nothing untoward happens to them. The laughs in David Epstein's screenplay lie in the situation, not in the glib wisecrack: the tell-tale flour and sugar on a character's jacket after the robbery of a bakery; a character pretending to be blind in order to get his beloved dogs on a city bus during a rainstorm; an off-duty policeman who always carries his gun in a shoulder harness when walking around the house in his underwear; and would-be criminals sheepishly watching an old black-and-white movie called Armored Car Robbery on television for how-to tips, as the entire family gathers around to watch as well. (Unlike the comic bumbling of the thieves in the Fifties Italian film Big Deal on Madonna Street - a distant cousin to Palookaville - the humor here is subtle, not broad. An alternate title for this heist movie could have been How Not to Steal a Million.) No doubt director Taylor must take credit for the way that this film brings out the best in everything associated with it. It's a sweet heart of a movie, chock full of all the right touches.