Speakeasy Movie Review

Here's something I didn't know: Those Project Greenlight people not only made the awful Stolen Summer during that first season. They also made the runner up, a movie called Speakeasy. This one Miramax couldn't be coaxed into releasing in theaters: It arrives on DVD three years later.

Now that the Greenlight formula is well established, it comes as no surprise to find Speakeasy falling right in line with the films we've seen before. It's basically a family drama, it has elements of a period piece scattered throughout, it's got a disabled person or two, and its screenplay eventually wraps around to where things began. Simple, small, and manipulative, this is what Project Greenlight has become all about: It's the Lifetime Network of the indie cinema movement.

Speakeasy would feel right at home among Merideth Baxter Birney-in-jeopardy fare. Here's the gist: Grumpy failed magician (David Strathairn) has a fender bender with struggling pawn shop owner (Nicky Katt), leading them both to examine their lives as they become interconnected. The common bond: Strathairn's father in law (Arthur Hiller) is deaf, as is Katt's daughter. Also muddying the issue is Strathairn's wife, a grousing woman (Stacy Edwards) who refuses to see her dad, for reasons we'll discover later. As all of these sad sack characters muddle along, somehow they all come to grips with their problems and wind up happier in the end.

Unfortunately, the emotional journey each of them takes makes little sense. Never mind that car accident participants are rarely on speaking terms afterwards -- and even more rarely do they invite each other over for dinner. What's really uninspiring is the characters' personal issues. Ultimately, Strathairn and Katt's problems come down to money, a problem that's lazily solved in the end. The only one with any real growth is Edwards' snotty wife. How does she grow? An old high school pal (Christopher McDonald) pops on the scene and offers impromptu therapy sessions. When we find out why she doesn't get along with dad, it's a major letdown.

Fortunately all the players (save for Hiller, who is mercifully rendered mute by the script) are solid actors and in general they rise above this middling material. Recommended only for those who want to get their movies made by the Greenlight crew, so you can see what kind of pap they respond to.


Speakeasy Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 2002


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