What have veteran character actors Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Seymour Cassel and Dan Hedaya been up to lately? They've retired -- sort of. The four seasoned thespians form the Ben-Gay-and-bullets center of the "The Crew," a creaky mixture of old-age gibes and gangland mythology that might have been more accurately titled "Grumpy Old Mobsters."
The four co-stars play childhood pals who grew up to be New York-area mobsters with names like Joey "Bats" Pistella (Reynolds), Mike "The Brick" Donatelli (Hedaya), Tony "Mouth" Donato (Cassel) and Bobby Bartellemeo (Dreyfuss). Much to their chagrin, they've somehow stayed alive long enough to retire. Now in their sunset years, they find themselves living in a Miami residents' hotel, bored to tears and threatened with displacement by the gentrification of their suddenly cool South Beach neighborhood.
Scripter Barry Fanaro (who co-wrote the gross-out comedy "Kingpin") previously worked with director Michael Dinner on the TV series "Golden Girls." They obviously know a bit about old-fart humor, and there's a lot of it in their latest project -- probably more than actual senior citizens will enjoy seeing and hearing.
Fanaro and Dinner try to give each of the four former tough guys his own personality, but they still seem fairly interchangeable as they gimp their way through their various adventures. Those exploits include a plot to repel new residents from their hotel. It's a scheme that works well enough until a stripper named Ferris Lowenstein (Jennifer Tilly, in squeakingly good form) gets wind of their shady doings. Her price for silence? Having the boys perform a hit on her stepmother, Pepper (Lainie Kazan). Their attempts to avoid this unwanted duty eventually involve the quartet in a conflict with Raul Ventana (Miguel Sandoval), an unintentionally funny Colombian drug lord.
If your exposure to their previous work has made you a fan of any of these actors, you'll probably get a small kick out of their latest outing. But if you could care less about the faces involved, you're likely to be slightly bored, because what's going on here is basically a TV movie-of-the-week that's been dressed up with big names.
To capitalize on our sympathy for his leads (and to preserve his PG-13 rating), Fanaro makes sure the geriatric goodfellas don't engage in activities that are actually awful, ultimately revealing them to be pretty nice guys after all. That fiction undercuts the entire premise of the movie, and causes us to look elsewhere for some connection to the characters. It isn't to be found within the story, which lurches to a predetermined outcome after dwelling on a repetitive series of gags. (How many times can an old codger outwit or out-threaten a younger guy before the shtick ceases to be funny?)
Dinner undermines the performances by pacing the movie as if it were a situation comedy, with lots of pauses inserted where the laugh track should kick in. Doesn't he know we'll probably be able to rent this thing on video next month, and play back whatever fast-moving parts we initially miss?
Yes, this mob is pretty funny -- at first, anyway. Its soldiers are played by accomplished actors who have proven track records in comedy. But even old pros can't look good without proper direction. "The Crew" doesn't give any of these gangster underlings the creative capo they deserve.
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