'Things to Do' doesn't do anything

February 16, 1996|By Stephen Hunt | Stephen Hunt,SUN FILM CRITIC

Here's something to do in Denver that would be more fun by far than seeing "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead." You could die. Really, it would be more enjoyable.

"Things to Do in Denver blah blah blah" is one of the infernal children of Quentin Tarantino's brazen success of excess. It attempts to ape his tropes and signatures, to duplicate his charms, to appropriate his vocabulary: the drop-dead hip gangsters, the fussy, silly "real" (but highly stylized) dialogue, explosions of grotesque violence, weird names for the characters. Ugh. This is the one that'll keep him out of heaven, not "From Dusk Till Dawn."

Directed by desperate Tarantino wannabe Gary Fleder and written by even more desperate Tarantino wannabe Scott Rosenberg, the film stinks of desperation. It has the awkward feel of the dead line of a tracing done by someone holding the pencil too hard, rather than a document sketched giddily from free line -- exactly what is charming about Tarantino.

The plot follows a reformed gangster who is drawn back into the life, which he ultimately regrets. Ex-player Jimmy the Saint (a silky but one-note Andy Garcia) is flopping in an absurd (but preciously ironic) business venture by which he records the last wisdom of the terminally ill for their survivors on video. Now, with everybody owning a videocam, how smart is this?

Anyhow, his ex-mentor, the Man with the Plan (Christopher Walken in a wheelchair, sucking oxygen from a tube in the movie's only amusing performance), recruits him on a feckless gangster mission which is to scare his son's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend into bailing out so that the son -- a child molester -- will regain a shot at the girl.

Of course he recruits a team of absolute idiots with cute names like "Critical Bill" (Treat Williams) and "Pieces" (Christopher Lloyd) and "Franchise" (William Forsythe), and they put together a plan any movie viewer would recognize as doomed from the start.

The whole thing goes wrong, people die, the Man With the Plan has to clamp down and Mr. Shhh (Steve Buscemi) is imported to take out the gang that couldn't plot straight.

So really, most of the movie is watching Buscemi stalk the boys and pot them in insouciant, ironic ways. Some run, some fight, some, old thieves who sentimentally recognize their lives are up and the world has changed, accept their demise with something like good grace. Garcia, meanwhile, flirts pretentiously with Gabrielle Anwar and struggles with his ethical obligation to the men who are dying all around him.

It goes nowhere because there's almost no energy to drive it anywhere. There's never that sense of organicism that suggests characters coming to life; it's all attitude, posture, style, self-indulgence. Life is too short and sweet to waste time dead in "Denver."

"Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead"

Starring Andy Garcia and Christopher Lloyd

Directed by Gary Fleder

Released by Miramax

Rated R (violence, profanity)

Sun score *

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