A taut and freshly handled study of one man's descent into drug dementia, "Sweet Nothing" avoids melodrama, keeping a dry, nonjudgmental eye on typically overblown material. Flawless, star-making perfs and a thoughtful script give this good-looking indie effort a shot at a theatrical life.

A taut and freshly handled study of one man’s descent into drug dementia, “Sweet Nothing” avoids melodrama, keeping a dry, nonjudgmental eye on typically overblown material. Flawless, star-making perfs and a thoughtful script give this good-looking indie effort a shot at a theatrical life.

Long-faced Michael Imperioli toplines as Angel, a low-level brokerage worker until his pal from the Marines, Raymond (Paul Calderon), casually introduces him to crack. Soon, he’s dropped his job to deal the drug full-time, the better to be near a steady supply.

At first resistant, Angel’s wholesome, dark-haired wife, Monika (Mira Sorvino), can’t resist the influx of material goods into their modest Bronx apartment; the more money he makes, the blonder she gets.

While Angel’s steady pipe-lifting has him spinning into paranoid and abusive behavior, Raymond is getting high on the power that comes with being a big-time dealer, and the buddies fall out fast.

Cut off from the white stuff, Angel heads for increasingly demeaning — and dangerous — ways back into the biz, unmindful that he’s losing his family.

Pic’s biggest marketing challenge is surfeit of drug-addled tales, the most recent being B.O. flop “Basketball Diaries,” which also featured Imperioli.

This one is infinitely more coherent, and more useful, as it digs further into the psychology of addiction than most accounts, and handles it with enough wit and verve to keep auds from undue suffering (there could have been more background on Angel, but his blank past may make him more universal). Tech values, right down to snazzy title design, are considerably smoother than small budget would suggest.

“Sweet Nothing” also has the hook of being based on actual notebooks found in a Bronx tenement. The filmmakers tracked down their author, likewise called Angel, and sponsored his admission into various revolving-door rehab programs, until one stuck.

Purportedly, the addict has been clean for more than two years, and this fact contributes to the pic’s generally uplifting, if realistically unresolved, ending.

Sweet Nothing

Production

A Concrete Films (New York) production. Produced by Rick Bowman, Gary Winick. Executive producer, Mark Ross. Directed by Gary Winick. Screenplay, Lee Drysdale.

Crew

Camera (color), Makoto Watanabe; editors, Niels Mueller, Bill Pankow; music, Steven M. Stern; production design, Amy Tapper; costume design, Franne Lee; sound (Dolby), Steve Rogers; casting, Brett Goldstein. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 10, 1995. Running time: 90 min.

With

Angel - Michael Imperioli
Monika - Mira Sorvino
Raymond - Paul Calderon
Rio - Billie Neal
Dee Dee - Brian Tarantina
With: Patrick Breen, Richard Bright, Maria Tucci, Christopher Marquette, Michele Casey, John E. O'Keefe, Lisa Langford, William Rothlein.
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