The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Return of Joe Rich (2011)

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Kevin at MTI Video sent me this screener.  When I saw the cast had Armand Assante and Talia Shire, I was excited to check it out.  I also liked the premise of a guy who loses his legitimate job in this new economy looking for employment with the mob through his uncle.  Let's see how it did.

The Return of Joe Rich has Sam Witwer as Chicagoan who has a normal life in California, until he loses his job and his home and is forced to move back home and live with his mother, Talia Shire.  His father died when he was young, and he always looked up to his uncle, Armand Assante, a local mob boss.  He decides that he wants in on his uncle's business, but maybe he doesn't have the stomach for it.  He's also looking to patch things up with an old flame, and is hoping to make a big score to set himself up with her.  But will that big score come at too huge a price.

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Ugh, for the first hour I thought we really had something.  Scratch that, we did really have something.  We had the kind of movie we were looking for, the regular guy trying to figure out how to make money in the new economy, disillusioned, full of asinine and indulgent philosophies because he's had a lot of time on his hands.  We also had the question of who's the bigger gangster, the mobsters or the bankers?  Then we had documentary interviews with local older guys who had been in the Chicago mob, guys who try to dispel the romanticizing of mob life through movies like The Godfather and TV shows like The Sopranos.  It was all there, all the elements to make that great movie, and then it takes a left turn at the thirty minute mark and loses me completely.  Our hero is no longer our hero, he's now a two-bit punk, and I want nothing more than to see him get his comeuppance, which never happens because he's still being sold to us as the hero.  The movie breaks down from here, and I lose any attachment to it.  Ugh, it was so frustrating.

I think part of the reason why this left turn was so hard to swallow, was that I think we were supposed to still be rooting for the hero, and supposed to be rooting for him against Assante.  Assante brings such a level of dignity to his role that it was impossible to side with the punk that our hero became.  It's too bad, because, despite the fact that his character was a gangster, Assante played him so well, that he deserved better than what he got.  Also, I think he had more to give us, both from how well he was played, but also how well he was developed in the script.  This guy needed to be propping this film up to the end, but it never happened, and that was a shame.

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I don't know what happened at that hour mark, but one area it felt like it was really delving into well, was the idea of the mafia as a legitimate career choice in the new economy, and what that means.  We had the idea of the heartless banks taking people's homes, and whether they're not just a legal form of extortion from another mob; yet, at the same time, when our hero has to collect money from someone who doesn't have it, he sees that similarity and is conflicted in carrying out his task.  Throughout we get this overarching idea that the mob isn't as glamorous as TV and movies have made them out to be, so the idea that the mafia would be a better career path in the new economy is then put to further scrutiny.  Again, all of this is tossed out the window at that extreme left turn with 30 minutes left.

It's always interesting to see Talia Shire in a low-budget or DTV flick like this, because growing up in the 80s 70s movies were ubiquitous on TV, and she was in some of the biggest, especially in the Rocky and The Godfather series.  If you look at her imdb though, during that time the bulk of her work came in those films, and I imagine they took a long time to shoot, which left her little time to branch out.  She's great here in a small role as Witwer's clingy mother, providing some of the funniest moments.

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Technically I have been to Chicago before, because I've switched planes at O'Hare Airport, but, of course, we don't count that as actually having been.  It's a city I'd really like to visit sometime though.  Getting back to growing up in the 80s, Chicago was in so many of the films I grew up watching.  This film used it in a very interesting way, because on the one hand it was very specifically Chicago in the landmarks, but it easily could've been Any City, USA in the story.  Other than the occasional Bears reference, this film could've been in Detroit or Cleveland or Baltimore, or anywhere where people who were once comfortable are struggling.  It was another area where this film worked really well in examining the country in the new economy.

Ugh, but that last thirty minutes though!  I will say, I read another review of this where the person had no issue with the end, so I think it might be worth checking out in spite of what I say so you can judge for yourself.  As of this posting, it won't be released on DVD until August 13th, 2013, but it might be worth a RedBox rental when it does come out.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1540014/

3 comments:

  1. I grew up in Chicago (in the city not far from Wrigley) so I can tell you that it's a nicely designed city with lots of landmarks. It's also on a grid system. Besides being murder capital, it's a great city. I think it was a mistake for the Batman franchise to move the last film ('The Dark Knight Rises') to Pittsburgh from Chicago.

    I wonder if this show will be picked up? Or is it a mini-series only? The cast sounds great. I haven't seen Armand Assante in anything for a while. Of course Sam Witwer is a scifi darling.

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    1. I can appreciate any city with a grid system growing up with Boston as my nearest big city-- those streets are a mess! I've always wanted to go to there, and everyone I know who's been has said great things. I haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, but I didn't know that they moved it from Chicago. Did the state of Pennsylvania give them better tax credits?

      And I think this is a one-off, though now that you mention it, as a series this would've been great, and maybe a better last thirty minutes with an idea in mind for 13 or so more episodes would've fixed the issues I had with it.

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  2. Yes, Armand Assante needs to return to tv. He's a fabulous actor. The last time I've seen him on tv was in the miniseries 'The Odyssey.' I think the film he's most famous for is 'Mambo Kings,' which was a while ago.

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