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
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
"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.