leave a comment --Ken Fox
Populated by a great ensemble cast and oozing a grubby sort of charm, this loose remake of the 1958, Italian comedy-caper classic BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET marks the promising writing/directing debut of Cleveland-born brothers Anthony and Joe Russo. While serving time for a bungled job, small-time car thief Cosimo (Luis Guzman) gets what could be his biggest break. His cellmate (John Buck Jr.), a former bricklayer serving a life sentence, lets him in on what the denizens of the burned-out and boarded-up Cleveland neighborhood of Collinwood call a real "Bellini": a sure-fire job that could make Cosimo a fortune. Years ago, the old mason tells him, he constructed a breakaway wall between a pawnshop and what's now an empty apartment; all Cosimo needs to do is let himself into the flat, hammer his way through the wall and crack the safe on the other side. If he pulls it off, $300,000 will be his. With stakes this high, getting out of jail shouldn't be a problem: Cosimo orders his tough-as-nails girlfriend, Rosalind (Patricia Clarkson), to take the 15 grand he's got stashed away and hire a "Mullinski" — a paid patsy who'll take the fall for Cosimo. Rosalind scours Collinwood, but instead of a Mullinski she winds up with an assortment of loose lipped losers, all of whom all want in on Cosimo's Bellini: Pero (Sam Rockwell), a boxer with a big ego and a glass jaw; out-of-work photographer Riley (William H. Macy), who's got an infant son and a wife in the pen; Toto (Michael Jeter), Cosimo's doddering partner-in-crime; Leon (Isaiah Washington), a nattily dressed sharpie determined to see his sister (Garbielle Union) married in style; and small-time thief Basil (Andrew Davoli). Pero takes charge of the operation, but just as they're about to put their plan into effect, the inevitable spanner is thrown into the works: The attractive and eminently woo-able Carmela (Jennifer Esposito) moves into the formerly empty apartment. French filmmaker Louis Malle remade BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET — badly — as CRACKERS (1984), but the brothers Russo know something Malle didn't: the story is as much about locale as characters, and their evocation of Collinwood's desperation lends a crucial poignancy to the film's hilariously misbegotten exploits. This warm and hugely enjoyable romp is the first feature produced by Section Eight, a production company formed by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, who puts in a brief but memorable appearance as a tattooed and wheelchair-bound safecracker.