Audiences and critics in 1996 largely dismissed 2 Days in the Valley as a Pulp Fiction knockoff, and today the movie might best be remembered for its big-screen debut of Charlize Theron as a statuesque gun moll. But the flick deserves much better. While its newest incarnation on DVD is disappointingly bareboned, at least it gives viewers an opportunity to acquaint themselves with this underappreciated thriller-comedy.
Writer-director John Herzfeld's modest film bears a passing resemblance to Pulp Fiction, particularly for its quirky characters and multiple storylines, but the similarities end there. 2 Days in the Valley doesn't possess Tarantino's bite, nor does it aspire to it. Bad guys sit in cars and banter here, but their conversations are free of pop-culture references, and Valley's most brutal scene is a knockdown, drag-out fight between Theron and Teri Hatcher. Herzfeld tickles the criminal underbelly of the San Fernando Valley, but his worldview is decidedly kinder and gentler.
Over the span of two nights and two days, the film chronicles four seemingly unrelated story threads. James Spader portrays Lee Woods, a cold, prickly contract killer who uses a stopwatch when interrogating his would-be victims. Lee enlists a washed-out mobster, Dosmo Pizzo (Danny Aiello), to help him pull a hit on womanizing cad Roy Foxx (Peter Horton). Things get messy, however, when they target Foxx in the bedroom of his ex-wife, Becky (Hatcher) an Olympic skier who routinely comes in fourth place.
In another part of the Valley, Allan Hooper (Greg Cruttwell) is an acid-tongued British art collector suffering from kidney stones. While painful, it isn't enough to prevent him from insulting his long-suffering assistant, Susan (Glenne Hedley). Allan tells the woman she won't find ever land a man unless she gets breast implants and liposuction.
Meanwhile, vice cops Alvin (Jeff Daniels) and Wes (Eric Stoltz) are casing an Asian massage parlor. Wes, a wannabe homicide detective posing as a customer, doesn't have the heart to bust the Vietnamese woman who goes to work on him. Alvin isn't so solicitous, vowing to rid the Valley of "slant-eyed whores." Both men will find themselves ensnared in a more ominous situation when they are flagged down by a traumatized Becky Foxx.
Finally, Paul Mazursky plays Teddy Peppers, a down-on-his-luck television director and writer who plans to commit suicide. But first he needs to find a good home for his beloved pooch, Bogie. He pins his hopes on a nurse (Marsha Mason) he meets at a cemetery.
The talented cast delivers the goods, but the real star is Herzfeld, who intersects his stories in tantalizing ways until tying things together in a final climax. His direction is unshowy but taut, his script wry and engaging. He creates characters with swift, concise strokes -- Mason's nurse likes war movies, Aiello's gunman is afraid of dogs, etc. It's not particularly complex, but it nicely fills the noir niche.
And beyond the sundry murders, kidnappings and meanness lurks a bit of humanity. Herzfeld generally likes his characters. The film's shabby heart is personified in Dosmo, who makes pasta for his victims and proves that chivalry isn't dead. As one character observes, "It's been my experience, more often than not, that a loser has more honor than a winner."
The anamorphic widescreen treatment here is long-overdue, but otherwise its quality, presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, is neither spectacular nor deficient. The picture is clear, albeit a little soft in a few spots.
Aside from some climactic gunshots that get surround-sound action, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is modest. It doesn't matter much; this is a dialogue-driven film. Audio tracks are available in English, Spanish and French, with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
None. What gives?
2 Days in the Valley is smart and solid filmmaking, a quasi-noir thriller-comedy with the good sense not to take itself too seriously. Unfairly dissed by some critics in the mid-Nineties as a Tarantino wannabe, the movie deserves more respect than that. While this latest DVD version sports better picture quality than previous incarnations, its lack of bonus material is mighty disappointing. No director commentary? No retrospective? Hell, at the very least we could've handled a Charlize Theron-Teri Hatcher grudge match ...