The Big Squeeze

Veteran cable helmer Marcus De Leon takes a stock set of characters and gives them a fresh spin with his witty, light-fingered script, which centers on a Chicano bar where Tanya (Lara Flynn Boyle) pops Coronas behind the bar while husband Henry (Luca Bercovici), once a promising baseball player, sits on his duff; he's been praying a lot, ever since receiving a now-ancient injury. Tanya really gets miffed when she accidentally discovers that he's also sitting on $ 130,000 in disability money he never bothered to mention. When he denies it, things turn ugly: "It was God that hit her," Henry explains, "but He used my hand." She swiftly packs her bags.

With:
Benny ... Peter Dobson Tanya ... Lara Flynn Boyle Henry ... Luca Bercovici Jesse ... Danny Nucci Cece ... Teresa Dispina Father Sanchez ... Sam Vlahos Father Arias ... Valente Rodriguez

Veteran cable helmer Marcus De Leon takes a stock set of characters and gives them a fresh spin with his witty, light-fingered script, which centers on a Chicano bar where Tanya (Lara Flynn Boyle) pops Coronas behind the bar while husband Henry (Luca Bercovici), once a promising baseball player, sits on his duff; he’s been praying a lot, ever since receiving a now-ancient injury. Tanya really gets miffed when she accidentally discovers that he’s also sitting on $ 130,000 in disability money he never bothered to mention. When he denies it, things turn ugly: “It was God that hit her,” Henry explains, “but He used my hand.” She swiftly packs her bags.

TX: TX:A First Look Pictures release of a Zeta Entertainment (Los Angeles) production. Produced by Zane W. Levitt, Mark Yellen, Liz McDermott. TX:Directed, written by Marcus De Leon. TX:Enter Benny (Peter Dobson), an indigent yet slick opportunist who hits on the slinky barmaid and, when rebuffed, looks to her peppery co-worker (Teresa Dispina) for a safe haven. Tanya herself bunks in, platonically, with Jesse (Danny Nucci), a soulful-eyed gardener who’s secretly in love with her. Meanwhile, Henry is spending more and more time brooding at the local Spanish mission, which, coincidentally enough, is trying to raise a wad of dough for much-needed restorations.

Henry’s soon-to-be-ex-wife doesn’t want to see those bucks go down the drain, no matter how holy, so she puts out feelers to the obviously disreputable Benny to see if they can hook hubby in a sting. True to noir-scam form, Benny soon has Jesse drawn into his nefarious plan (unbeknownst to Tanya), and it’s not long before all are at one another’s throats. What makes this work is that De Leon immediately establishes a breezy, nonviolent tone and sticks to it without sacrificing atmosphere or tension.

The cast is also well balanced, with their marked contrasts used to good effect. Boyle delivers warmth and spunk she doesn’t usually get to rep, and she sets off different sparks with each of the players. Dobson makes a strong impression as the slippery, genial hustler, and Nucci shows sexy star power as the gardener with an artistic temperament. Also notable are Sam Vlahos and Valente Rodriguez as put-upon padres who aren’t above a little scamming themselves — but only for a good cause, of course.

Colorful lensing gets the most out of familiar SoCal locations, which are used to milk references to “Chinatown” and earlier sordid tales. Devo man Mark Mothersbaugh’s jazzy, percussive score helps maintain the momentum.

The Big Squeeze

Production: The Big Squeeze

Crew: Camera (color), Jacques Haitkin; editor, Sonny Baskin; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; production design, J. Rae Fox; set decoration, Traci Kirshbaum; costumes, Charmian Schreiner; sound, Don Gooch, Paul Rataczak; assistant director, Bruce Gillies; casting, Laura Schiff. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 7, 1996. Running time: 82 min.

With: Benny ... Peter Dobson Tanya ... Lara Flynn Boyle Henry ... Luca Bercovici Jesse ... Danny Nucci Cece ... Teresa Dispina Father Sanchez ... Sam Vlahos Father Arias ... Valente RodriguezWith: Michael Chieffo, Raye Birk, Angelina Estrada, Janet MacLachlan, Gary Paul, Laura Ceron. Afilm noir formula is updated to modern, multicultural L.A. and played mostly for sophisticated laughs in "The Big Squeeze," a well-judged ensemble piece that manages to be steamy and satirical at the same time. Pic's only drawback is its lack of marquee names, but good word of mouth could give "Squeeze" a respectable wedge into midsummer playoffs.

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