The smell of defeat is in the air (and on all the faces) right from the start of this non-starter, a late work from the more typically effervescent Harold Ramis. A would-be Elmore Leonard tale of ineffectual swindlers, John Cusack’s the low-level mob lawyer who partners with Billy Bob Thornton’s strip club operator to skim a couple of million bucks from a shady client. What could go wrong? The first clue is in the credits. With script credit going to Richard Russo & Robert Benton, you have to assume that the writing/directing team of the superb uncategorizable NOBODY’S FOOL/’94, and its middling noirish follow-up TWILIGHT/’98, had their own plans for this, but couldn’t get it off the ground. Enter Ramis. It’s too self-conscious to take flight, though some grisly doings in the middle have a bit of remembered flair from early Joel & Ethan Coen. If only there was a fresh idea in the mix. As it stands, every time the lighting goes sultry for femme fatale Connie Nielsen, you wonder what audience demographic this could possibly play to.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: As Sidney Lumet showed in his swan song, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD/’07, there’s still life in this sort of thing. Or, you could see how the Coen’s breakthrough pic, BLOOD SIMPLE/’84 is holding up.