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King of the Corner

Ardustry Home Entertainment // R // October 25, 2005
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Eric D. Snider | posted October 23, 2005 | E-mail the Author
THE MOVIE:

Leo Spivak has a combination of problems that is supposed to make him sound like Everyman but that really makes him sound like EveryMovieCharacter. His teenage daughter is growing up too fast, his aged father is crankily awaiting death, he hates his job, and a younger co-worker is trying to replace him. He's married to Isabella Rossellini, though, so I don't know what he's complaining about.

"King of the Corner" benefits most from its performances. Not its plot, which is typical mid-life-crisis-comedy stuff, nor its characters, who are not especially intriguing, but its performances. In the lead (and also the writer and director) is Peter Riegert, one of those New Yorkish actors you recognize without knowing his name. He played Donald "Boon" Schoenstein in "Animal House"; more recently, he's been a defense lawyer on "Law & Order," and he has a recurring role as a crooked assemblyman on "The Sopranos." This is his first lead role, as well as his feature-directorial debut, and he shows an earnest affection for what he's doing, an actor's working knowledge of script and story.

Leo works in marketing for a New York firm, conducting focus groups for his clients' new products. These include the home security device that alters your voice when you talk on the phone so that you sound like Gregory Peck. (Even not being a single woman who's afraid of being home alone, I would buy that.) Leo is good at what he does, and he's happy to mentor young Ed Shiffman (Jake Hoffman, son of Dustin) as he climbs the corporate ladder, unaware that Ed is willing to steal Leo's ideas if it will help him climb.

Every other weekend, Leo flies to Arizona, where his cranky Jewish father Sol (Eli Wallach) has migrated to run out the clock in a retirement home. Sol has already bought a burial package from a local mortuary in anticipation of his demise. Leo doesn't want to talk about the sort of thing. Dad's never been very affectionate to Leo, but his friends at the retirement home say when Leo's not around, Sol never stops bragging about him.

OK, so there's the situation. Now where is it going? While in Philadelphia on business, Leo runs into Betsy (Beverly D'Angelo), a girl from high school some 30 years ago. He had a big crush on her back then, and obviously still does, while she hardly remembers him. They sleep together. This leads to a very funny/uncomfortable scene with Leo showing up at Betsy's house and confronting her husband. It's funny, but why is it happening? Why is Leo behaving this way?

I think what Reigert's going for, and achieving with only slight success, is some insight into the mind of a bored, middle-aged man, that sort of "what do I do now?" phase that many people go through. And while "King of the Corner" is amusing, and eventually reaches some clarity about Leo's psyche and his relationship with his father, it is not the sort of transcendent human comedy that it wants to be. It is, instead, a middling one, certainly watchable but by no means special.


THE DVD:

VIDEO: The picture is widescreen (1.85:1), but not anamorphic. The digital transfer is fine.

AUDIO: It's rather surprising for a non-special-effects-laden, low-budget indie comedy, but two audio options are presented: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The jazz that fuels the film's musical score sounds great either way.

EXTRAS: Peter Reigert does a commentary that is disappointingly dry (considering what an affable guy he seems to be), spiced up only occasionally with mildly interesting anecdotes.

Much more interesting is "The Wandering Jew," a 7-minute Starz-produced doc about Reigert's attempts to get the film into theaters. Since he couldn't find a distributor, he promoted it the old-fashioned way: He traveled the country with the movie, doing publicity, interviews, and post-screening Q-and-A's in every city it played in, drumming up support as best he could.

Also included is "By Courier," an amusing 13-minute vignette directed by Reigert that won an Oscar in 2001 for Best Live Action Short.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

The movie is worth seeing, certainly; it's sophisticated and funny and worthy of an evening's diversion for a small gathering of grownups. That said, I can't see owning it. It's not the sort of thing you'll be compelled to watch over and over again.

(Note: Most of the "movie review" portion of this article comes from the review I wrote when the movie was released theatrically. I have re-watched the film in the course of reviewing the DVD, however.)

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