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In the Soup

In the Soup
1992 / B&W / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 96 min. / Street Date July 27, 2004 / 24.95
Starring Steve Buscemi, Seymour Cassel, Jennifer Beals, Pat Moya, Will Patton, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Bracco
Cinematography Phil Parmet
Production Designer Mark Friedberg
Art Direction Ginger Tongas
Film Editor Dana Congdon
Original Music Mader
Written by Tim Kissell & Alexandre Rockwell
Produced by Hank Blumenthal, Chosei Funahara, Jim Stark, Junichi Suzuki, Ryuichi Suzuki
Directed by Alexandre Rockwell

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

In the Soup sounds like a generic 90s "indie" picture, but it's just too much fun to ignore. Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Beals and Seymour Cassel make a terrific acting trio, and the whole enterprise comes to life, a claim that all art-oriented indies make but few achieve.

Fantoma's DVD presents this quirky comedy in beautiful form, with a host of interesting extras.


Broke and desperate filmmaker Adolpho Rollo (Steve Buscemi) is a Manhattan wannabe in love with the mysterious woman next door, Angelica Peña (Jennifer Beals). He puts out an ad offering to sell his 'fabulous' movie script for $500, and gets a response from Joe (Seymour Cassel), who gives him a thousand and says he'll raise the 250,000 to make the picture. The problem is, Joe is a semi-connected wiseguy with a hemophiliac brother Skippy (Will Patton) and a habit of committing oddball crimes. Adolpho has signed on for a wild ride with a guy who shows up in the middle of the night and drags him into risky criminal activity. But Joe's also a sweetheart who terrorizes Adolpho's thug landlords into submission and goes to see Adolpho's mother in the middle of the night to make her feel happy. Best of all, Angelica comes into the picture, thanks mostly to Joe's wild party personality. Adolpho should be happy, but his life has become totally unglued, and his movie dreams seem farther away than ever.

Writer-director Alexandre Rockwell has the verbal and visual wit to make In the Soup a charming and entertaining comedy. For a start, he brings out the best in his actors: Steve Buscemi is in top form as an inoffensive artistic everyman who imagines himself being raised by Nietzche and Dostoyevski, and really believes his bad film-school script has the makings of great cinema ("How about we have the main character go blind, and then cut 20 minutes of black leader into the show?"). He lives among mice and roaches in a typical NYC Horror tenement, but things never get so creepy as to chill the fun mood.

This is perhaps Jennifer Beals' best film. She's reasonably convincing as a Latin transplant, and the script helps her sketch out her depressing situation quite well - working in a coffee shop while taking care of 2 kids and a retarded brother. She also deals with a predatory French boyfriend (Stanley Tucci) she married to get a green card - only finding out later he wasn't a citizen either. In the Soup posits Angelica as the angel character Adolpho wants in his movie. When he gets to know her his life becomes the movie he wanted to make, so she becomes an angel after all.

Seymour Cassel is nothing short of terrific as the effusive, devious but loveable Joe. He's always credible enough to pass for a real person, but continually surprises with unpredictable antics - just the kind of guy needed in a sub-screwball comedy.

In the Soup is absurd and off-the-wall but never strains for its effects or leads with its indie credentials. The writing is funny, the characters snappy. The proof of this is that even though we figure out fairly soon that Adolpho's movie isn't going to get made, we don't care. We're having too good a time.

Dour Jim Jarmusch and squeaky Carol Kane have a funny scene as a pair of exploitative cable TV entrepreneurs shooting a TV show called The Naked Truth. Establishing the hostile-but-amusing NYC fantasy mood are Steven Randazzo and Francesco Messina as the Barfardi brothers, Adolpho's doo-wop singing landlords who threaten him with a song. Elizabeth Bracco and Debi Mazar are a pair of hookers Joe picks up for New Year's. All are welcome presences in Rockwell's crazy parade.

Fantoma shows off its quality goods in a pleasingly well-appointed DVD of In the Soup that should be called a special edition. The enhanced transfer is about as good as B&W can look on DVD - sharp, ghost-less and nicely detailed. The audio makes great use of a charming Jazz score by Mader. The catchy tunes keep the show afloat more than once, nicely balancing Buscemi's sometimes hangdog disposition.

There are three commentaries, one with the director, one with Seymour Cassell by himself and one with Rockwell and cast members Buscemi, Tucci, Bracco, Kane, Jarmusch and Randazzo. No one person dominates the group chat and the joking makes us feel in the middle of a party of talented people. It's like a family gathering - Buscemi tells us one of the locations is where he took his firefighter's test when he was younger.

There are a tall stack of outtakes and deleted scenes transferred from workprint, and a guide to dancing the cha-cha from that annoying record heard in the movie. A paper insert contains more cha-cha text instructions, but don't file this disc in the instructional section.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, In the Soup rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: commentaries, deleted scenes and outtakes
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 27, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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