Livers Ain’t Cheap

This umpteenth screen study of the wages of crime displays a bit of low-budget filmmaking flair, but serves up nothing original save for the robbers' wacky motive for their heist. Flashy, fast-paced indie holds the attention while it's unspooling, but denouement is so pointlessly nihilistic as to leave the viewer feeling that the destination wasn't worth the trip. Coming at what is probably a trailing off of the ultra-violent crime cycle, pic reps a minor entry in the field, with a marginal theatrical life possible en route to homevid.

With:
Rupert Little ... James Russo Lisa Tuttle ... Emily Lloyd Foreman ... Gary Busey Dexter ... Pat Gallagher John ... Jeremy Piven Carla ... Ashley Laurence Collin ... Esai Morales Alfredo Donati ... Fabrizio Bentivoglio Victor ... Rod Steiger Eric Fidel ... Robert LaSardo James Little ... Dave Buzzotta

This umpteenth screen study of the wages of crime displays a bit of low-budget filmmaking flair, but serves up nothing original save for the robbers’ wacky motive for their heist. Flashy, fast-paced indie holds the attention while it’s unspooling, but denouement is so pointlessly nihilistic as to leave the viewer feeling that the destination wasn’t worth the trip. Coming at what is probably a trailing off of the ultra-violent crime cycle, pic reps a minor entry in the field, with a marginal theatrical life possible en route to homevid.

Having notched four noirish thriller and horror pics on his gun since 1992, writer-director James Merendino submits his application to the Scorsese-Mann-Tarantino school of visceral cinema in a strenuous opening sequence in which career criminal Dexter (Pat Gallagher) is nabbed by police in downtown L.A. after blowing a measly purse-snatching.

In jail, as Dexter reveals to buddy Collin (Esai Morales) his plans to knock over a ritzy nightclub to the tune of more than $ 1 million on New Year’s Eve, he’s overheard by young punk James Little (Dave Buzzotta), who soon tells his older brother and former small-timer Rupert (James Russo) about it. When the brash James is critically wounded in an attempt by a suspicious Collin to rub him out, the kid needs an expensive liver transplant that, Rupert deduces, only the New Year’s heist can pay for.

So the gang of usual sleazeballs and losers is rounded up, one that in this case includes Rupert’s buddy John (Jeremy Piven), his wife, Carla (Ashley Laurence), anarchic British punkette Lisa Tuttle (Emily Lloyd), Italian scam artist Alfredo Donati (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) and hot-blooded Latino Eric Fidel (Robert LaSardo).

Plan involves grabbing the cash held in the office of thuggish club owner Victor (Rod Steiger). Naturally, the place is heavily guarded, but the amateurs scheme to catch rich boys napping by breaking in through the wall from the abandoned bagel store next door. All goes pretty well until the ruthless Dexter and his gang turn up through the front door to pull the same job at the very same time, whereupon all hell breaks loose.

Although all the characters basically possess no redeeming qualities, Merendino manages to generate a smidgen of sympathy for Rupert and his crew simply by virtue of the noble reason behind their mission, however preposterous it might be. All the more reason, therefore, to resent the ending, which essentially ridicules the viewer for having taken a rooting interest in characters you wouldn’t want to meet in real life.

Delivering all the stylistics he can on an obviously meager budget, Merendino lays on the propulsive Steadicam takes, in-your-face brutality and dizzying crane shots, all of which keep the eye occupied even if the material seems terribly mangy as time goes on. Thesping is uniformly in the hunkered-down tough-guy mold, while goofy musical backgrounding mixes diverse pop tunes with portentous classical selections.

Livers Ain't Cheap

Production: A WT Entertainment Inc. & Southern Star Studios presentation of a Cutting Edge production. Produced by David C. Glasser. Executive producers, Patrick Francis, Jerry Brown. Directed, written by James Merendino.

Crew: Camera (Four Media Co. color, Panavision widescreen), Greg Littlewood; editor, Esther P. Russell; music supervisor, Richard Glasser; production design, Charlotte Malmlof; art direction , Sandra Lea Grass; set decoration, Segolen Koschu; costume design, Megan Heath; sound (Ultra-Stereo), Don Summer; assistant director, James (Jim) Deck; casting, Roe Baker. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 12, 1996. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: Rupert Little ... James Russo Lisa Tuttle ... Emily Lloyd Foreman ... Gary Busey Dexter ... Pat Gallagher John ... Jeremy Piven Carla ... Ashley Laurence Collin ... Esai Morales Alfredo Donati ... Fabrizio Bentivoglio Victor ... Rod Steiger Eric Fidel ... Robert LaSardo James Little ... Dave Buzzotta

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