THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
"Straight-to-video" is a label that few films can survive with their dignity
intact. Tom DiCillo's Double Whammy may have its flaws but it is
in no way deserving of the cinematic dust bin to which it was assigned
by its distributor. When Cinema Gotham took a look at the film
and its dilemma last July (click
here for the article) it looked likely that the film would never
a theatrical release and that's exactly what happened.
Still, the film is out on DVD and there are a lot of people who'll
finally get the chance to see it. Double Whammy is a the
superstitious tale of NYPD detective Ray Pluto (Denis Leary), a guy who
just can't catch a break. Right from the film's strange, shocking
opening scene (in which Pluto's bad back prevents him from stopping a
brutal crime) DiCillo alerts the audience both to Pluto's bad luck and
the film's odd mixture of comedy and drama. The supporting
range from cartoonish to gritty as well. A quartet of excellent New
character actors turn in relatively small roles, including Steve
as Pluto's schlubby, doting partner and Chris Noth as the slick,
sharp-eyed Dmitri, Pluto's nemesis on the force. Most surprising of the
supporting roles is Luis Guzman, given more to do than his usually
bad-ass drug dealer roles allow. DiCillo uses him to excellent effect as the
super in Pluto's building. Playing a family man with realistic,
recognizable problems (as his daughter, played by Melanie Diaz, storms
out of the apartment yelling "I hate you!" Guzman calls after her "No
you don't! You love me!" in a sweet, tough, funny way.) Only Victor Argo
gets slightly short-changed in the character department, with his
chief blustery and loud but not much more.
The other major player
in Pluto's life is his chiropractor, Anne Beamer (Elizabeth Hurley), a
woman who's been through the ringer (like Pluto, Beamer was once
married) and displays some reservations about going down the
road again. DiCillo is smart to use Leary and Hurley in this capacity,
as damaged adults having a touch-and-go adult relationship, especially
considering how neat and immature romance is in most Hollywood fare.
Neither actor is old by any means, but they both have a rumpled,
lived-in quality that the starlets of mainstream cinema are a decade
away from. Leary is up to the challenge, giving Pluto a gravity that
lets you know he's real even though he doesn't always take himself or
his life seriously. Hurley tries more here than she usually does but
she's still not entirely convincing. She never really manages to get
past being Liz Hurley, model and actress, and into her role.
But we also don't really know much about her character. Pluto, on the
other hand, has a lot of backstory, including a tragedy for which he
blames himself. He's a post-something cop-flick hero, less heroic than
just there, taking responsibility on his own shoulders even for things
that are totally out of his control. Even by the film's somewhat
open-ended finale he never really figures out what happened (Noth's
character, however, does) but he still feels the need to work out the
There's another plot in Double Whammy that needs to be
mentioned. Donald Faison and Keith Nobbs play Pluto's neighbors, a
screenwriting duo determined to write the next Reservoir Dogs.
While on the one hand DiCillo takes pot-shots at Tarantino with this
Cannes-worshiping duo, he also introduces another layer to the film.
Double Whammy features a lot of samples of overblown media
coverage (lots of New York Post headlines calling Pluto "Loser Cop")
this helps make DiCillo's point about the hunger for tragic, violent
stories by the public. Without resorting to Oliver Stone hysterics,
DiCillo shows us the crime, shows us the so-called news media treatment
of it, and shows us the guys writing the shoot-em-up fictional film based on it. From
street to print to screen in three easy steps.
The anamorphic widescreen video looks crisp and colorful. DiCillo and
cinematographer Robert Yeoman (who usually works with Wes Anderson)
shoot New York in a variety of styles, from realistic to comic
and the transfer handles all the styles. Compression is not overly
apparent and the image is clear and sharp.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is pretty good. Voices are clear and
the diverse score sounds snappy.
The only extra of note is the commentary track from DiCillo and John
Anderson, a writer for the New York Daily News. This is a particularly
interesting commentary given the problems that plagued the film's
release. Near the end DiCillo says that the difficulty the studio
gave him has made him re-evaluate filmmaking as a career and he sounds
like he means it. Given how much fun it seems like he had in the actual making of the
film, however, it's doubtful he'll really call it quits just yet. Critics have
been unfair to Double Whammy, really jumping on its flaws, but
DiCillo and Anderson do a nice job of discussing the film's strong
There is also a trailer, accessible by clicking on the
Lion's Gate logo.
Double Whammy is an occasionally challenging, occasionally
clumsy film with some very funny performances (especially Buscemi,
Nobbs and Faison). Fans of the cast or of slightly-off-kilter
independent films should give it a try. It puts a spin on the police
procedural that takes what could have been played for straight grit and
makes it quirky and unpredictable. DiCillo obviously enjoys switching
gears, sometimes mid-scene, and the fact that some viewers will get
along the way is inevitable. Still, Double Whammy is solid and
deserves a shot.