Jeremy Piven and Frank John Hughes in Layin' Low (1996)


(director/writer: Danny Leiner; cinematographer: Jim Denault; editor: Michele Botticelli; cast: Jeremy Piven (Jerry Muckler), Louise Lasser (Mrs. Muckler), Edie Falco (Angie) Frank John Hughes (Christy), Alanna Ubach (Manuela), Nick Kepros (George), Pat McNamara (Mr. Muckler), Paul Sand (Augie), Paul Schulze (Patty); Runtime: 96; Shooting Gallery; 1996)
“A charming comedy set in the Brooklyn of the 1980s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Layin’ Low” is a charming comedy set in the Brooklyn of the 1980s, filled with plenty of colorful city types. Jerry (Piven) is an unemployed twentysomething, living in his eccentric parent’s Carroll Gardens brownstone. He’s an aspiring writer who sleeps late and reads a lot, but doesn’t really know what to do in life. He tells his best friend Christy (Hughes), that he needs to get out of the house and get a place on his own. Christy is a born loser, hanging around the OTB and pretending to be a winner. He resides on the roof of a Brooklyn apartment building, where he invents a gizmo to catch pigeons hoping to sell the meat to Chinese restaurants.

When a friend (Schulze) of Jerry’s asks to help him move out of his girlfriend’s house, he obliges. The friend stops off at his local drug dealer to score grass, but while there two hitmen rub out the drug dealer while Jerry’s friend steals the drug cache. But he is shot and dies before Jerry can get him to the hospital. Jerry now has the drugs, and is on the run from the cops and the gangsters.

Jerry confides in Christy about what went down and Christy offers to make arrangements with the gangsters to get the drugs back. Christy gets sidetracked from that duty when he spots Jerry’s new boarder, an attractive single coed from Spain, Manuela (Alanna). Instead of meeting the gangsters in front of the OTB as arranged he takes Manuela on a tour of the neighborhood, treating her to Good Humor ice cream and pizza, giving her enough junk-food until she pukes.

Jerry, fearful of staying in his house, has Christy arrange for him to stay with his cousin Angie (Edie). After some hostility is shown against Jerry by Angie, because she catches Christy in a lie about why Jerry is here, the two strike up a romance. Angie is, of all things, a philosophy professor at Hunter College. This brings about a funny scene, as Jerry sneaks into her class and she’s teaching Kant with a sharp Brooklyn accent.

The comedy ends in tragedy, but somehow it never draws us into caring what happens.

The ensemble cast does a nice job in sketching life in Brooklyn for a bunch of idlers. The neighborhood boys dream about hitting the Exacta, scoring drugs, and getting a job. What they do best is hang out in a Greek diner and play stickball in the street. It’s a sweet, mellow story, with a lot of laughs and with some violent scenes which never seemed to be more than play-acting. There was good chemistry among the stars, especially the relationship Jerry has with both Christy and Angie.