I suppose that in the final analysis Don Coutts’ “American Cousins” is innocuous enough that one finds oneself having no real attachment toward it. Then again, one also finds oneself not having any real dislike of it, either. The low-budget movie, about two American mobsters who end up in Glasgow, Scotland staying with “someone they know”, is not terribly funny, not terribly effective, and not terribly exciting. Then again, it’s also not terribly bad, not terribly unfunny, and not terribly ineffective. Now, if all of that makes sense, then you’re even more confused than I am.
Veteran Dan Hedaya, obscenely relegated to racist and barely-there roles by the Hollywood establishment in recent years, finally gets some justice. Hedaya headlines as Settimo, a New York mobster who, along with young buck Gino (Danny Nucci), must take refuge from Ukrainian mobsters after a deal goes bad. The duo ends up in the restaurant of a cousin of the family, Roberto (Gerald Lepkowski), who has no idea, or interest, in his distant kin’s organized crime roots. The three gets along anyway, but things hit a bump when Gino starts making eyes with Alice (Shirley Henderson), a divorced woman working at Roberto’s restaurant, and whom Roberto has always carried a torch for. And oh yeah, those Ukrainians are in hot pursuit.
As mentioned, there’s nothing overly excellent about “American Cousins” except for the mature turn by Dan Hedaya, who really gives the film a soulful presence as the tough but honorable Settimo. Danny Nucci (“Firestarter 2”) is a one-trick pony, but luckily for the movie his one trick is playing the Italian mook with an easy smile and a charismatic personality. He does here what he does on a weekly basis on the TV show “10-8”, where interesting enough he plays a reformed bad boy turned cop. Vincent Pastore, the ex-“Sopranos” cast member, turns in a cameo appearance as the New York mob boss who sent Settimo and Gino on their mission. Pastore has made a career out of playing minor variations of the same role he played on “The Sopranos”, and he continues the streak here.
As to the domestic members of the cast (the movie is supposed to be set in Scotland but it’s supposedly made by Englishman according to IMDB.com), Gerald Lepkowski and Shirley Henderson don’t detract from the story at hand. They’re good actors, and so is Russell Hunter as Roberto’s curmudgeon grandfather. There’s surprisingly very little action in “American Cousins”, as most of the film is spent on the burgeoning love triangle between Roberto, Gino, and Alice. For the emotionally withdrawn Roberto, seeing Gino easily woo Alice drives him crazy; worst, Alice seems to be reciprocating.
The script by Sergio Casci offers one minor action scene in the beginning and then a loud, albeit rather pointless, bigger action scene toward the end. Some audience members may even feel a bit cheated because the dispute between the American and the Ukrainian gangsters is “resolved” rather easily, as if it was irrelevant to begin with. But of course Casci spends most of his efforts chronicling Roberto, Alice, and Gino, and every now and then Dan Hedaya gets a meaningful scene to class up the place. And since “Cousins” has no interest in being gritty or dramatic, I’m sure you can guess who ends up with whom.
My advice is not to expect too much from “American Cousins”. For a film with its low budget, it doesn’t offer the slick production values Hollywood films are known for. In fact, Don Coutts’ direction is sometimes too static, just barely showing a pulse in most scenes. But at just under 90 minutes, “Cousins” flies by fast enough, with a brisk pace and some funny moments courtesy of some Scottish thugs, the locals and those hired by the bad guys to look for the Americans. There are a number of minor comedy moments to be had as the American mob clashes with the local mob, but nothing that will make you laugh.
And yet I liked “American Cousins”. I enjoyed the fact that it has an even tone, that it never just decides to shift gears somewhere along the way and become completely bloody or vulgar, something the Robert De Niro “Analyze” films had no problems doing. It always bothered me that both “Analyze This” and its sequel played the comedy for laughs, but then expects us to overlook the wanton vulgarity and sudden bloodbath that are sprinkled throughout.
“American Cousins” works just enough that I was never bored. It moves well, and even though Coutts’ direction could have used a little bit more flair, there’s enough here to entertain. Not entertain thoroughly, mind you, but enough that I never had a doubt that I was enjoying what I was seeing.
Don Coutts (director) / Sergio Casci (screenplay)
CAST: Dan Hedaya …. Settimo
Shirley Henderson …. Alice
John Henshaw …. Nigel
Russell Hunter …. Nonno
Gerald Lepkowski …. Roberto
Danny Nucci …. Gino