(director/writer; John Herzfeld; cinematographer: Jean Yves Escoffier; editor: Steven Cohen; cast: Robert De Niro (Eddie), Edward Burns (Jordy), Kelsey Grammer (Robert), Kim Cattrell (Cassandra), Avery Brooks (Leon), Vera Farmiga (Daphne); Runtime: 119; New Line Cinema; 2001) 

“It’s a film that has about 15 minutes of fervor to it before it gets grounded into a mixture of sleaze, violence, and heartless melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A mindless action film that exploits the current news headlines, while it presents Andy Warhol’s dictum that in the future ‘everybody will be famous for 15 minutes;’ and, it adds to that its ludicrous plot revolving around how everyone is enchanted by fame, either wanting to be a celebrity or to gawk at celebs. It also presents an annoyingly didactic message about violence, which it says is encouraged by the media for ratings.

There is nothing subtle about this heavy-handed thriller. Its fast-paced street action scenes and the attention grabbing psychopathic villain (Karel Roden) challenging the self-absorbed celebrity ace homicide detective (De Niro), give it some entertainment value. It’s a film that has about 15 minutes of fervor to it before it gets grounded into a mixture of sleaze, violence, and heartless melodrama.

Two vile Eastern European émigrés come to America believing it is the land of opportunity for everyone, including criminals. The morose Emil (Karel Roden) is a Czech, with the bulging eyes and simpering grin of a lunatic. His partner is a creepy, dim-witted Russian, Oleg (Oleg Taktarov), who is into taking pictures of everything he sees around him with his mini camera.

Emil will at one point declare: “I love America! No one is responsible for what they do.” He gets his info about America, after watching a dumb American tabloid TV show (which is the way most foreigners unfortunately learn about America).

Before they take care of their NYC business, Oleg impulsively steals an expensive camcorder off a Times Square store and immediately starts videotaping everything in his sight. The two then go to the apartment of Emil’s partner, who stashed the money for them to split while Emil spent time in prison for the crime in the old country. When he tells Emil he spent the money and can only offer him a job as a plumber, Emil picks up his partner’s kitchen knife and savagely stabs him to death and then chokes his wife to death. To conceal the crime, he puts their bodies together and douses them with gasoline and burns down the building. The only problem, is that there was a Czech woman in the other room who witnessed the murders and escaped down the fire escape. Oleg, who thinks of himself as Frank Capra, got it all on video.

First on the crime scene is the 55-year-old homicide detective, Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro), who tells a popular tabloid TV program,”Top Story,” hosted by sleazy Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer), a business friend of Eddie’s, about his arrests so he can get exclusive footage of it which enables his show to have top ratings. In return Eddie gets publicity which has made him into a celebrity, the toast of the grateful town. Eddie’s girlfriend is that program’s TV reporter (Melina Kanakaredes), and they mutually help their careers grow. The only good thing about this arrangement is that despite its unseemly nature Eddie is perceived as a dedicated and good cop, and the show does help in catching criminals. Second on the crime scene is a young fire marshal, Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns), who is upset that the publicity hound homicide detective is stepping on what is supposed to be his crime scene. But they both conclude there was a double homicide committed before the fire started, and decide to exchange their takes on the case and work together.

The eyewitness is an edgy hairdresser Daphne (Vera Farmiga), who is in this country illegally and therefore afraid to come forward. But Eddie and Jordy track her down to her workplace salon, where she works as a hair washer. Meanwhile Emil is also trying to locate her and finds in his victim’s wallet a card to an escort service, whereby he calls for a Czech prostitute to come over to his hotel. He beats the address out of where the unfortunate prostitute works before killing her and beats the detectives to the salon where he threatens the Czech witness not to squeal or else. The detectives come by and they spot the two thugs in the street and the best action sequence in the film takes place, as the detectives run through the crowded East Side NYC streets chasing the murderers who escape into Central Park.

The next part of the film is its big surprise, it involves these two lunatics making a “snuff” film and selling it to Top Story for a million dollars. Emil figures out that he and Oleg should be captured in Planet Hollywood, with their sleazy attorney at their side (the real-life Mafia mouthpiece, Bruce Cutler). The mouthpiece will plead insanity for them and blame the crime on Emil’s abusive childhood and he will move to get Oleg sent to a mental institution, where he can then claim he’s sane and be released. Oleg’s insane plan is to then cash in on his celebrity for a movie deal knowing that he won’t be tried for the crime again because of double jeopardy.

John Herzfeld (“2 Days in the Valley”), in his second feature, has used the media for his whipping boy to get out his overstated message about how slimy they are. Other than the action scenes, brilliantly filmed by Jean Yves Escoffier, the movie is unappealing.

As for the actors: De Niro is playing a part he always does very well, showing off his comical gift for quirkiness and endowing his character with a larger than life presentation. Burns is his opposite, a bland personality who doesn’t watch TV or seek publicity. His performance succeeds only in being a bland one, intentional or not. The juiciest part is reserved for Roden, who makes the most out of being a scary figure, a sociopath with an unintentionally droll wit. Grammer plays a cardboard villain, who lives for the ratings which gives him fame and wealth. He could be any one of a number of tabloid TV slimy hosts, reminding me most of the ass-kissing and rating conscience Geraldo Rivera.

There’s not much to this flick, except for the beautiful way its mayhem was filmed. Its cynical opinion of the media seemed hypocritical, since this film is just as exploitative and violent as the tabloid TV show it was railing against for the whole two hours.

REVIEWED ON 3/17/2001 GRADE: C   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/