The shadow of “Reservoir Dogs” looms large over “Flipping,” a suspenseful crime drama dealing with the intricate psychological dynamics among a bunch of lowlifes who rebel against their boss to bloody effect. Though impressively made , Gene Mitchell’s feature debut will suffer from comparisons with the recent crop of stylish indie crime mellers, such as “The Usual Suspects” and “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.” Still, a limited theatrical release should serve as a calling card for a new writer-director who shows facility at constructing a taut, fast-moving narrative.
Very much a boys-will-be-boys movie (there’s only one female role, and it’s tiny), “Flipping” is set on the wedding night of Hooker (Shant Benjamin), with the latter’s macho friends celebrating the event while at the same time carrying on their “routine” chores. After a sexually ambiguous scene between a strange cop, Billy (David Proval), and a handsome toughie, Michael (David Amos), in the men’s room, story proper begins with a quartet of thugs going to collect debts from a gambler. Not surprisingly, the encounter ends in bloodshed, though it whets the team’s appetite for bigger rewards for their work.
It turns out that Michael, who earlier eliminated the gangster target of the obsessed cop, is a small-time con man with grand ambitions for power and wealth. But he’s not as bright as he thinks he is, and when he cooks up a mutiny against greedy chief Leo (Keith David), unexpected things happen. In fact, the entire crew is highly proficient but not very smart (which is one of the points of the film). Almost every routine encounter leads to shouting — and shooting — and it takes only the smallest provocation for the thugs to pull the trigger, often at one another.
The film is cleverly crafted, its rather complex plot intermittently entertaining. Clearly, director Mitchell aspires to place his work in the by-now overly crowded film noir field, but pic lacks the existential edge and poetic vision that mark the best entries in the genre. Ultra-violent in the manner of Tarantino, but without the latter’s flair for comedy or irony in executing shootouts, the film is overbaked, always on the verge of breaking into hysterics.
Excepting a subplot involving a problematic gay cop, pic charts a territory well mined by other crime stories of the 1990s. Its grand finale unveils some suspected truths about sexual identity, loyalty and duplicity, but is too imitative of “Reservoir Dogs.” Mitchell has etched half a dozen characters that are distinguishable in motivation and demeanor, but, unlike Tarantino’s characters, none of them is particularly sympathetic or engaging, which works against the film’s emotional impact when, one by one, they are eliminated.
Still, accomplished cast of veterans and newcomers compensates for uneven writing, with especially impressive turns by David as the crime chief, Proval as the troubled cop, Amos as the charming opportunist and helmer Mitchell in the pivotal role of Shot. Directed with energy and flair, “Flipping” boasts striking visuals by lenser Phil Parmet and extremely smooth editing by Kevin Krasny.