WENT TO CONEY ISLAND ON A MISSION FROM GOD…BE BACK BY FIVE
(director/writer: Richard Schenkman; screenwriter: Jon Cryer; cinematographer: Adam Beckman; editor: Richard LaBrie; cast: Jon Cryer (Daniel), Rick Stear (Stan), Rafael Baez (Richie), Ione Skye (Gabby), Frank Whaley (Skee-Ball Weasel), Peter Gerety (Maurice), Akili Prince (Julie), Patricia Mauceri (Mrs. Munoz), Christina Hernandez (Allegra), Dominic Chianese(Photographer), William Wise (The Store Owner); Runtime: 94; Phaedra Cinema; 2000)
“Too much of the film seemed to have no place to go, just like the misinformed tourists who go to Coney in the winter and find that the Cyclone ride is not in service.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A sometimes engaging indie film about three best friends growing up in NYC, that is a heartfelt story but is hampered by its awkward dialogue and unfulfilling plot. It begins with the voiceover from a mature Danny (Cryer), telling how he met at an early age his two best childhood friends — Stan (Stear) and Richie (Baez).
The crux of the film has themalready graduated from high school and functioning as young adults, living a life that is less rosy than their childhood expectations. Stan, their outspoken leader, who was born with a bum foot, is living with his childhood sweetheart Gabby (Skye). He has a drinking problem and is unhappy in his current job as a pizza parlor worker. Danny is the timid one who works as an appraiser for a jewelry store, a respectable job but the store operates much like a pawnbroker’s. He feels unsatisfied with his position, but thinks he’s lucky to have it. Richie, who fooled the boys early on by lying about his sexual prowess with women, has had a mental breakdown and has disappeared somewhere in Coney Island, where his friends believe he is living as a homeless person.
When the two friends go in search of Richie in the deserted winter landscape of Coney Island, we see in flashbacks of their youth all the disappointments in their lives that led to their current despair and what bonded them together and why this search becomes much like a spiritual odyssey.
There are odd characters who inhabit the bleak off season Playland; such as, a lonesome photographer in his seventies who has the boardwalk in his blood and can’t leave the area even though the area has deteriorated. A couple of men lovers who recreate a staged melodramatic lover’s argument in front of the boys and talk in an unnatural stagelike voice. And an unenthusiastic waitress, with a scowl, who serves them hotdogs without any relish. A young Skee-Ball operator who talks like a college lecturer about the rules in his place. All these characters seemed contrived and though comedy burst forth from them from time to time, the film still felt flat. The best conversations are between Danny and Stan, and give the pic its intellectual stimulus.
The story of Richie takes the film down a different avenue, as it is wracked with pain. Richie has a chemical imbalance and chooses to be a homeless person. He has occasional sparks of memory coming back to him; but, because of his sexual problems and guilt-trip over his sister’s car accident and because he refuses to take his medicine to treat his condition, he can’t function as a normal person any longer. Richie is too depressed to make any sense of his life and the film doesn’t know what to make of him, except as a tragic figure who was once considered to be like the other boys.
“Went to Coney Island” never got untracked though it had some bright dramatic moments and some perceptive comic offerings, but it could never come together as a complete picture. It was also done in by a needless subplot of Stan getting into trouble because of gambling debts, which just seemed like padding to a thin story. Too much of the film seemed to have no place to go, just like the misinformed tourists who go to Coney in the winter and find that the Cyclone ride is not in service.
REVIEWED ON 2/23/2001 GRADE: C https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/