Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Welcome to Collinwood



USA 2002 : Anthony & Joe Russo : 86 mins

A heist-comedy remake from producers Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, this isn’t so much Oceans 11 as Puddles Half-Dozen. Updating 1958 Italian farce Big Deal on Madonna Street to a slummy corner of modern-day Cleveland, Ohio, the Russos and their spot-on ensemble cast craft an amusingly retro, brazenly slapstick cross between American Buffalo, Palookaville (also based on Italian material) and the early, funny section of Small Time Crooks (jaunty jazz piano accompanies many scenes).

A ragtag crew including Paul Thomas Anderson regulars Luis Guzman and William H Macy (himself a Buffalo stage veteran) plot an elaborate but pitifully small-scale jewel robbery that turns into a catalogue of escalating calamities – the film, while essentially no more ambitious than its hapless heroes, is much more nimbly executed. Restricted to three brief appearances as wheelchair-bound safe-cracking expert Jerzy Antwerp, Clooney in particular has seldom been such good value on-screen. Even Sam Rockwell is, for once, a tolerable screen presence as Pero, a useless-but-cocky semi-pro boxer.

Though the jokey criminal-underworld vocabulary (in search of their Bellini, the crooks may have to employ a Melinsky, etc) is straight from Things To Do In Denver When Youre Dead, the Russos employ the gimmick with restraint, as just one aspect in their coherent wider vision of a stylised, alluringly dilapidated version of modern urban poverty that owes much more to previous movies than to any actual rust-belt reality.

This could leave Collinwood open to charges of mocking some desperately serious issues we could manage without the fadeout image of a billboard defaced with graffiti proclaiming the suburb as The Beirut of Cleveland. But the film is such a shaggily good-natured exercise in old-school comedy that the Russos manage to beat the rap. Proceeding at a frenetic clip throughout, the film whizzes by so breezily and ends so abruptly that audiences main gripe may be that they’d have preferred ten or twenty minutes more. The debutant writer-directors lightness of touch, meanwhile, also augurs well for their future career: just think what a mannered affair this might have been in the hands of, say, the Coens or of Soderbergh himself.

16th October, 2002
(seen 6th, Odeon Mansfield)

by Neil Young