Tag Archives: Jennifer Esposito

No Looking Back (1998, Edward Burns)

No Looking Back runs just under a hundred minutes. The first half of the film–roughly the first half–evenly relies on its cast. In fact, top-billed Lauren Holly almost has less than either Jon Bon Jovi and director Burns (acting, second-billed) in the first half. It’s a love triangle and she’s the prize. Burns is coming back to Nowhere, Long Island after running away to California years before. Ex-girlfriend Holly has moved on and in with Bon Jovi, who’s ostensibly a childhood friend of Burns’s but it’s a somewhat reluctant friendship. Burns is a jerk from scene two. He has two honest moments in the film; his first and his last. The rest of the time, he’s basically just a prick.

But he’s a different kind of prick than Bon Jovi, who’s the too perfect man. He wants to be a good dad, can’t wait for Holly to join his mom and sisters in the kitchen for football Sunday (he’s in the living room with his brothers), and so on and so forth. There’s this strange transition with sympathies, which Burns (as a writer and director) doesn’t deal with very well. He tries hard to keep the love triangle restless–the three characters never all interact in a single scene, even if all present–and it strains the film at times. But it also pays off because it means Holly gets more opportunity.

Then around the halfway market, a Bruce Springsteen song comes on the radio and No Looking Back totally changes. The first half soundtrack, with the exception of a Patti Scialfa track or two, is indistinct, bland, late nineties pseudo-alternative songs. Nothing distinct. And then, all of a sudden, Holly assumes the protagonist role decisively. Performance, script, direction. The first half of the movie has been an awkward setup to provide back story to turn the second half into a Bruce Springsteen mix tape set to film. And it’s exceptional. The film’s flow is better, the scenes more poignant–I mean, it’s a soap opera. The thing couldn’t fail the Bechdel test more if it tried. But it’s this exceptional soap opera turned character study. And what ends up saving it is when Burns, as writer and director, stops pretending there’s any depth to he and Bon Jovi’s characters. More, the characters have to stop pretending too. It’s awesome.

Plus, there’s scene payoff for most of the supporting cast. Blythe Danner (as Holly’s mom) gets almost nothing in the first half and ends up being essential in pulling off the big finale upswing. Connie Britton’s great as Holly’s sister, with the first half’s least disjointed arc. Jennifer Esposito and Nick Sandow are both good as various friends, though Sandow’s basically Norm from “Cheers” and Esposito doesn’t get enough to do.

Oh–and Joe Delia’s score is a mess in the first half. There’s this generic hard rock theme running through the score. Maybe Burns could only get the four or five Springsteen songs and had to save them, but it’s not a good theme for Holly as Burns intentionally and maliciously upends her life, albeit through accepted social conventions. Score is much better in the second half.

Great photography from Frank Prinzi. Nice, patient editing from Susan Graef.

Holly doesn’t have a great character here; Burns ignored her too much in the first half to setup the second, but she gives an excellent performance. The stuff she gets to do in the second half, it’s like a reward for having to suffer through the first half’s weaker scenes. Bon Jovi gives a strong performance and once Burns, as an actor, gets to the Springsteen section, he really comes through as well.

No Looking Back has more than its share of problems, all of them (with the exception of the music) director Burns’s fault. It’s also pretty darn great; again, all Burns’s fault.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Joe Delia; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope, Michael Nozik, and Burns; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Lauren Holly (Claudia), Edward Burns (Charlie), Jon Bon Jovi (Michael), Connie Britton (Kelly), Blythe Danner (Claudia’s Mom), Nick Sandow (Goldie), Jennifer Esposito (Teresa), Welker White (Missy), John Ventimiglia (Tony the Pizza Guy), and Kathleen Doyle (Mrs. Ryan).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | EDWARD BURNS.

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Conspiracy (2008, Adam Marcus)

Well, Val Kilmer’s gone all the way. After some serious flirtation over the last few years, he’s finally made it to the under ninety minute direct-to-video action movie. But, given he’s Val Kilmer and he’s difficult, Conspiracy is no simple ex-Marine direct-to-video revenge action movie. Oh, no, with the director and screenwriter of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Kilmer’s taking on Halliburton. Well, it’s not called Halliburton, it’s called Halicorp and its CEO (played by Gary Cole) is actually George W. Bush–from the lines about the unworked hands doing nothing but counting money–mixed with a little Dick Cheney–he really, really likes guns. There’s also a whole bit about Cole running a vigilante border patrol, which I’m not sure Halliburton’s CEO actually does. The whole border thing works into Conspiracy‘s message about Republicans war profiteering then paying illegal immigrants instead of citizens….

There are actually a couple neat things in the movie. The political angle, when it’s not being spotlighted, is sort of amusing. It’s strange to see. There’s also a good surprise for Val Kilmer’s character. Unfortunately, Conspiracy never addresses the fact Kilmer’s grossly obese. Maybe if it had been about him being grossly obese, it would have been more like an actual narrative. Like if the stunt double hadn’t been some über-fit young guy. But the obesity is never addressed and the backstory makes little sense, especially given Kilmer’s age. And the flashbacks with the big Kilmer don’t seem reasonable.

The movie’s real cheap–there’s maybe one or two squibs in the whole thing–and Marcus is somewhat inventive. He’s no good as a director, but there’s the occasional sign he’s trying. Except for the first act, when there’s no score, just poorly chosen country music. Apparently, the whole thing is just an uncredited rip-off of Bad Day in Black Rock. Conspiracy takes place in an old West town, with some lame excuse in the story about Cole building a theme park or some nonsense. I’m assuming it was cheap to film on an old West set. And the Dunkin’ Donuts being there is actually pretty funny.

Until the political rhetoric starts, the only thing keeping Conspiracy interesting is watching Kilmer debase himself. Kilmer doesn’t even pretend to do anything interesting. Cole’s got some amusing moments playing the Mr. Big, but Kilmer’s got nothing. Except the scenes with kids. All the kid actors with lines are awful, but Kilmer plays those scenes really well. Adds a nice layer, or at least it suggests Kilmer’s still capable of adding layers. The only other actor with a recognizable name, Jennifer Esposito is pretty bad.

Conspiracy is another of the made in New Mexico movies Kilmer has taken to do… I figure he just drives twenty minutes or so and gets free Dunkin’ Donuts, but this one is a piece of crap, versus the one I saw previously (Blind Horizon). Conspiracy really needed a decent writer and a decent director. Eventually, when Kilmer goes Rambo (as my wife put it–she also pointed out Stallone’s much older than Kilmer and in far better shape), Marcus should have been able to do something cost effective. Instead, he went goofy.

I mean, the best acting work Kilmer’s done in a couple years has been a guest spot on “Numb3rs,” which is almost as embarrassing as having Conspiracy in your oeuvre.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Adam Marcus; written by Marcus and Debra Sullivan; director of photography, Ben Weinstein; edited by Eric L. Beason; music by Sujin Nam; produced by Gilbert Dumontet and Alison Semenza; released by Stage 6 Films.

Starring Val Kilmer (MacPherson), Gary Cole (Rhodes), Jennifer Esposito (Joanna), Jay Jablonski (Deputy Foster), Greg Serano (Miguel Silva), Stacy Marie Warden (Carly), Christopher Gehrman (E.B.) and Bob Rumnock (Sherrif Bock).


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