"Farmer & Chase" is a middling crime meller whose goal of character-driven novelty lacks sufficient script support. Somewhat buoyed by name leads, pic will best deploy theatrical play -- if at all -- as quick springboard to decent vid and cable prospects.

“Farmer & Chase” is a middling crime meller whose goal of character-driven novelty lacks sufficient script support. Somewhat buoyed by name leads, pic will best deploy theatrical play — if at all — as quick springboard to decent vid and cable prospects.

Farmer (Ben Gazzara) is an aging holdup man who maintains a Northern California home with his young adult son Chase (Todd Field) when not pulling jobs elsewhere with his partner of 20 years (Steven Anthony Jones). When latter is killed during a Chicago store robbery, Junior (hitherto resistant to anything more dangerous than shoplifting) suddenly, and improbably, signs on as the replacement.

Dad wants to pull one last big haul before retiring. But his tendency to inject a little gratuitous brutality into any action — whether beating senseless a hotel clerk who’s simply over-friendly, or “training” his own offspring via sucker punches — worries pacifist Chase. Another complicating factor is Hillary (Lara Flynn Boyle), a gum-chomping, directionless local girl ripe for some outlaw excitement alongside new b.f. Chase. “Women cloud yer judgment!” bellows Pop.

This trio clearly is headed toward doomsday. A hothead Windy City detective (Ron Kaell) and cooler FBI agent (David Booth) already in pursuit help ensure that denouement. Though never flat-out dull, film’s attempted juggle of humor and suspense elements doesn’t quite gel. Even a protracted climax during and after a bank robbery (with hostages involved) falls short of desired edginess. Tragic-young-lovers tag rings hollow, as twin dimlets Chase and Hillary don’t summon much sympathy.

Scenarist-helmer Michael Seitzman hasn’t whipped up a very intricate plot, with some details (like a phone stupidly left off the hook at one crucial moment) plain silly. Dialogue often embraces cliche, and central father-son relationship fails to convince — didn’t Chase ever notice Dad’s sadistic streak before?

That said, Gazzara lends assured presence to his shallow-depth role. Field registers a tad too passively, while Boyle is hardly taxed as the airheaded romantic interest; both are OK, but seem old for characters written (or underwritten) as haplessly immature. Support players, heavy on Bay area stage talent, are pro.

Amid smooth tech package, attractive lensing makes good use of Sonoma and Marin County exteriors. Soundtracked rock songs surface frequently to more routine effect.

Farmer & Chase

Production

An Arrow release in association with Red Sky Films of a Kalmbach/Seitzman production. Produced by Scott Kalmbach. Co-producer, Michael Seitzman. Executive producers, Douglass Humphreys, Ted Schacter. Directed, written by Michael Seitzman.

Crew

Camera (color), Michael Maley; editor, Doug Werby; music, Tony Saunders; production design, Doug Freeman; line producer , Julie Costanzo; casting, Joan Marechal. Reviewed on videocassette, San Francisco, Sept. 25, 1995. (In Mill Valley Film Festival.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Chase - Todd Field
Farmer - Ben Gazzara
Hillary - Lara Flynn Boyle
With: Steven Anthony Jones, Ron Kaell, David Booth.
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