director/writer: John Herzfeld; cinematographer: Oliver Wood; editors: Jim Miller/Wayne Wahrman; music: Anthony Marinelli; cast: Danny Aiello (Dosmo Pizzo), Greg Cruttwell (Allan Hopper), Jeff Daniels (Alvin Strayer), Teri Hatcher (Becky Foxx), Gleanne Headly (Susan Parish), Peter Horton (Roy Foxx), Marsha Mason (Audrey Hopper), Paul Mazursky (Teddy Peppers), James Spader (Lee Woods), Eric Stoltz (Wes Taylor), Charlize Theron (Helga Svelgen), Austin Pendleton (Ralph Crupi); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jeff Wald/Herb Nanas; MGM; 1996

This smart movie never seemed smart.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Former actor and longtime TV director John Herzfeld’s oddball comic film noir “2 Days in the Valley” is set in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. It chronicles a bloody tale of how the lives and deaths of 11 people, from neurotic art dealers to loopy vice cops to hot blondes, intersect over the course of 2 days. Unfortunately, there’s nothing fresh about all these familiar characters.

The film opens with two hitmen, softhearted down-and-out Brooklyn-bred Dosmo (Danny Aiello) and cold-blooded sociopath Lee (James Spader), hired to knock-off the womanizing ex-husband, Roy Foxx (Peter Horton), of also ran Olympic skier Becky (Teri Hatcher). Though the hitmen are not sure who is paying their contract, they shoot their target dead while he’s in bed with the scheming Becky.

From this loud beginning neophyte film director Herzfeld weaves together a multitude of superficial stories of pulp fiction that are mildly entertaining. It’s a crowded work that is finely constructed through crosscutting the various subplots, but lacks intensity, humanity and an edginess. It’s a wannabe Altman ”Short Cuts” or Tarantino ”Pulp Fiction,” but aside from the skilled ensemble cast it falls short of being more than a guilty pleasure treat.

After the resilient Dosmo foils an assassination attempt on his life, the dog-fearing Dosmo takes the pretentious English art dealer Allan Hopper (Greg Cruttwell) and his long-suffering assistant Susan (Gleanne Headly) hostage as he tries to avoid being gunned down by his double-crossing psycho partner Lee. Cruttwell is suffering from kidney stones and after successful treatment his loyal assistant cares for him at his home. Cruttwell rewards the homely girl for her eight years of service by offering to pay for breast implants and liposuction, promising these procedures will help her nab a man.

Lee’s Norwegian femme fatale blonde bombshell prostitute girlfriend Helga (Charlize Theron) is tailed to the massage parlor she works at by two vice cops (Jeff Daniels and Eric Stoltz). The cops don’t have the heart to arrest a Vietnamese whore, also working in Helga’s massage parlor, in an entrapment exercise. While Daniels is gung-ho to rid the Valley of prostitution and wants to make the arrest, Stoltz is more interested in pursuing a career as a homicide detective than in curbing vice.

Don’t ask, but somehow Charlize Theron and Teri Hatcher get into one big catfight that becomes the film’s centerpiece. Other characters in the crime-filled 2-day trek in the Valley, are one suicidal has-been TV movie director (Paul Mazursky) and a wacky assortment of neurotics that include compassionate nurse Marsha Mason and bad luck actor Austin Pendleton.

This smart movie never seemed smart, though not from lack of effort.