Six Ways to Sunday
1999, R, 96 min. Directed by Adam Bernstein. Starring Isaac Hayes, Jerry Adler, Elina Lowehsohn, Peter Appel, Adrien Brody, Deborah Harry, Norman Reedus.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 16, 1999
A coming-of-age mob tale with a uniquely warped take on the traditions of the genre, Six Ways to Sunday (which played Austin last year during SXSW Film '98) spends half its time strip-mining GoodFellas territory and the rest rapid-firing oddball jokes that seem to belong more than anywhere else to the realm of late Eighties Woody Allen. In short, Bernstein seems to be having difficulty deciding whether he wants to make us gag or giggle -- and has predictably muddled results. Reedus, looking like a shoddily constructed Leonardo DiCaprio clone left out in the rain, plays Harry Odum, a virginal teenager in Youngstown, Ohio, who divides his time between caring for his wildly overprotective mother (Harry) and engaging in low-rent liquor store knock-offs with his childhood buddy Arnie (Brody), a marginally disturbed street punk with a bad hip-hop affectation. When Arnie goes down for a botched robbery attempt, Harry is left to fend for himself and soon comes to the attention of Abie Pinkwise, a lieutenant in the local Jewish mob. Taking Harry as his own, Abie molds the brash, fist-happy kid into his own budding right-hand man, setting him as an enforcer and even going so far as to help him score a date with the consigliere's immigrant housekeeper Iris (Lowensohn of Nadja). Love and bullets rarely mix, however, and Harry's mother is soon out to stymie her son's developing libido and ensure that mama's little boy never leaves mama behind. Six Ways to Sunday has the kind of performances that in any other film might garner the adjective “luminous”; here, the events of the storyline are so relentlessly grim, the camera and editing so florid and strange, that the term no longer applies. While Bernstein and co-writer Marc Gerald's script vacillates between violent, over-the-top shoot-outs and oddball comic touches (Mrs. Odum's living room is centered around a rickety lounger that collapses to the floor whenever anyone sits in it, Harry inexplicably maintains a library of books and magazines about dogs and dog care), the thrust of the picture gets lost in the shuffle. Are we supposed to feel bad for this scorpion-tempered, sexually jaundiced young thug? Is Harry's performance a comic masterwork or just a mistake? And what is Isaac Hayes doing here (besides the obvious, which more or less amounts to beating the bejesus out of Harry every chance he gets)? Mob capers ought not raise as many questions as this, and if perchance they do, they really ought to be more along the lines of honor, fealty, and betrayal, not “what the hell?” Then again, Six Ways to Sunday could be the first surrealist, Dadaistic Jewish mob comedy masterwork, a sub-sub-sub-genre so as-yet-untapped that critical revelations are impossible. But I don't think so.