' ' Cinema Romantico: Venice Underground

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Venice Underground

Recently my best friend and his lovely wife took time out from their festive lives in New York City to visit me which led to a Sunday afternoon brunch which led to wandering about my neighborhood which led to passing a thrift store advertising $3 DVDs for sale which led to my best friend and I browsing racks and racks of DVDs of movies we'd never heard of (and probably wish we'd never heard of) which led to me becoming obsessed with finding a DVD of a movie I'd never heard of for the specific purpose of reviewing it for my blog and, after much perusal, and after also finding "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" tucked away amidst all the crap, and after begging my best friend to lend me the necessary $6 (thanks, Jacob! This review wouldn't exist without you! You did the world a service!) since I'd just handed over all my money for coffee and overeasy eggs on top of biscuits and gravy, I had the perfect DVD in my hands.

"Venice Underground" (2005). This DVD appealed to me over the others because - despite its hilariously gratuitous cover - its cast and premise seemed to suggest it took itself seriously. That is what I wanted.

The cast is an awesome mix of slumming knowns - Edward Furlong, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Mark Boone Junior, Eric Mabius, and the man, the myth, Danny Trejo - and (there is a reason they're) unknowns - Nichole Hiltz, Nicholas Gonzalez, Randall Batinkoff, Carolina Garcia. The premise is painfully, expectedly by the book: the drug trade along the Venice Beach Boardwalk is, like, completely and totally outta control. So the Police Captain (Ed Lauter), who at one point actually declares someone "couldn't keep his hand out of the cookie jar", enlists the "bold" scheme of Sgt. Frank Mills (Batinkoff) who wants to take young pups not even finished with their training in the police academy and have them go undercover. He explains thusly: "Cops think and act like cops. These kids are all instincts and street smarts." After throwing up in his mouth a little, and against his better judgement, the Police Captain acquiesces.

This A-list squad isn't as motley as you'd expect. On the contrary, they are quite glamorous and a couple of them appear to have wandered over from some canceled Reality TV island. It's kinda like "The O.C." meets "Serpico." Gary (Furlong) and Tyler (O'Keefe) are an item. Samantha (Hiltz) is initially in bed with Sgt. Mills but it turns out this sly little minx is also in bed with Danny (Mabius) and, oh yeah, she's pregnant. Yes. Pregnant.

Kudos to Samantha for ceasing to drink liquor in the face of her impending pregnancy but, that said, should she really stay on the case? Should she really be busting down doors with a glock? Should she really be going under deep cover as a hooker? I mean, I hate to be that guy but, seriously, she's PREGNANT!!! Is this the message writer/director Eric DelaBarre yearned to send with "Venice Underground"? Pregnant women can be undercover cops, too?

Regardless of all this activity in the boudoir, though, the Venice Boardwalk drug ring must still be brought down, and so it will, as our intrepid gang wheels and deals its way through a shady music biz exec (Boone Junior) and a riotously unthreatening low level drug dealer named Joby (Bret Roberts) and an ominous dude in a car with no plates (Brian White) and the godfather, sort of, of a southside gang (Trejo) and so on and then, of course, there is the "mysterious" Man With The Golden Gun whose point-of-view we always see as he goes around eliminating the competition.

The acting is uniformly wooden (Furlong appears to have gone on an overnight drunk just prior to filming) and the filmmaking is predictably terrible as DelaBarre employs endless title cards ("Northside Dealer's House. 2:40 PM.") and insipid little flashbacks since I assume that he assumes no one was really paying any attention and awful slow-mo - lots of awful slow-mo - and in one moment of surreal absurdity, during the climactic gunfight and (half the money in our budget when towards this) explosion - the scene switches from late afternoon to night in 2 seconds. And don't even ask how the owner of the "mysterious" Golden Gun is revealed. That's the best you've got? Dude, no one's asking for a "Sixth Sense"-like twist but couldn't you have given it a little more thought?

What did I honestly expect from a $3 DVD of a movie called "Venice Underground"? Uh....this, I guess. What it does is re-inforce the fact that there is this whole other side to the movie business, all these little low budget movies on the fringe that eventually wind up on $3 DVD racks. Its producer was Jeff Most who, in looking at his IMBD credits, produced "The Crow" and "The Specialist" way back in the day, and has since produced the seemingly endless gurgle of "The Crow" follow-ups and a bunch of other movies like "Venice Underground". He must have money to toss at people like Furlong and O'Keefe and Trejo so he must be well off. Probably has a nice house in the cheaper section of the Hills. He's making a living. Respect.

But as someone who genuinely believes the cinema can change lives and re-align the stars re-realizing these facts about the industry just depresses me. Thank God I have "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" to cheer me back up.


Wretched Genius said...

O'Keefe & Mabius were in the third Crow movie, and Furlong & Trejo were in the fourth. So really, Jeff Most is just calling in favors.

Nick Prigge said...

That makes sense. At the risk of "spoiling" things Furlong, Trejo and Mark Boone Junior each get, like, two total scenes before getting killed. "Hey, it'll only be two days work. Tops."

Wretched Genius said...

>>"Hey, it'll only be two days work. Tops."<<

Aka the "Uwe Boll School of Filmmaking."

Jacob said...

I can't tell you how happy I am that the $6 I lent you were totally worth every penny. Fantastic. And by the way Uwe Boll. Love the reference. Any one who can turn House of the Dead into a movie is worth something.