Friday, January 13, 2012


From my ongoing exploration into the world of Claire Denis to my recent write-ups of 'The Brown Bunny' and 'Essential Killing', you guys should already know that PINNLAND EMPIRE doesn't shy away from giving praise to the films of Vincent Gallo (with the exception of 'Tetro'). 'Palookaville' may not be as popular as 'Buffalo 66' but its always been an entertaining lil' gem that I felt never got the respect it deserved. During the American independent film renaissance of the 1990's, i imagine it was pretty easy for a film like 'Palookaville' to go fairly unnoticed amongst other similar (and more popular) heist/robbery films like 'Fargo', 'Killing Zoe', the Martin Scorsese endorsed-'Bottle Rocket' or 'Reservoir Dogs' (which we all know launched Tarrantino's career and spawned Harvey Keitel's comeback). Strangely enough, Vincent Gallo was once considered for the role of "Mr. Pink" in 'Reservoir Dogs' before it eventually went to Steve Buscemi. 'Palookaville', which is actually a loose remake/reinterpretation of the classic Italian film; 'Big Deal On Madonna Street' (another crime/comedy centering around a group of thieves who cant seem to catch a break just like our characters in 'Palookaville'), didn't have the star power that those other films had. In fact most people don't even acknowledge 'Palookaville' as a remake of 'Big Deal On Madonna Street' like they do Louis Malle's 'Crackers' or the Steven Soderberg-produced 'Welcome To Colinwood'. Palookaville's biggest stars where a post-Dick Tracy William Forsythe (in a rare non-villainous/good guy performance), a pre-Buffalo 66 Vincent Gallo, and a pre-Fargo Frances Mcdormand (who in all reality only has two scenes in the film). But now that 15+ years have passed, I think its time to give this underrated gem another chance. Not only is the DVD cheap, but its pretty easy to come by (last time i checked). Aside from sharing the same basic plot of the aforementioned films (a heist or robbery gone terribly wrong), 'Palookaville' is also a (funny) look at what happens when non-criminals try their hands at crime or try to be tough guys when they know damn well that's not what they are (or as the character "Rus", played by Vincent Gallo, puts it; "a momentary shift in lifestyle").
'Palookaville' is the story of three broke, out of work best friends ("Rus", "Jerry" and "Syd") who decide to become to thieves. The only problem is that they suck at being criminals (this aspect of the film always reminded me of 'Bottle Rocket'). The film starts off with the three main character breaking in to what they think is a jewelry store when in fact they break in to the bakery right next door due to the fact that they didn't know how to read the blueprints of the building. Fed up with being broke and their failed robbery attempt, Rus sets out a plan to rob an armored car. And as you can imagine, their methods on how they plan to rob this armored car (equip with a water gun that they spray paint black to look real) are pretty stupid. Things get worse when Rus' dimwitted police officer brother-in-law catches wind of what they're up to. Now they have to execute this robbery with a cop on their tail.
The film also breaks off into individual subplots focusing on each of the three characters' personal lives (with an emphasis on their love lives). "Rus" (Vincent Gallo), who lives at home with his loud dysfunctional family, is secretly seeing a girl much younger than him and doesn't know if he wants to settle down with her or not (he also has an interesting relationship with a prostitute played by Coen Brother's muse; Frances Mcdormand). "Jerry" (Adam Treese) is an unemployed construction worker with a family he cant support. In fact his wife is the only one in the family with a steady job and she eventually loses it partially due to Jerry's temper. "Syd" (William Forsythe), the most depressing one of the bunch, lives alone with his smelly dogs, still hasn't moved on from his divorce and is too stupid to notice that the cute thrift store employee who lives down the street is madly in love with him. The biggest subplot however involves Rus, Jerry and Syd saving a random strangers life early on in the film. This is the slickest aspect of the story because not only does this part come out of nowhere, but it happens so early on that you forget all about it until the very end when it ties everything together.
This film isn't a masterpiece or anything like that, but its very entertaining and I find myself watching it twice a year or so. Given the combination of Vincent Gallo's growing cult status over the years along with his recent popularity in the film world (starring in Francis Ford Coppola's 'Tetro' in 2009 and winning best actor at the 2010 Venice film festival for his performance in 'Essential Killing'), I'm surprised this movie hasn't resurfaced or gained some kind of small cult following outside of myself and the few other people that actually remember this movie.


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