An inert tale of a criminal couple, "Two If by Sea" is suitable for incarceration, provided the jailer loses the key. Despite the marquee draw of Sandra Bullock, the picture should drown in the wash of current product and quickly sink from sight, other than for appearances soon on video shelves and latenight cable programming.

An inert tale of a criminal couple, “Two If by Sea” is suitable for incarceration, provided the jailer loses the key. Despite the marquee draw of Sandra Bullock, the picture should drown in the wash of current product and quickly sink from sight, other than for appearances soon on video shelves and latenight cable programming.

Denis Leary receives first billing in and co-wrote this vanity piece about a petty thief, Frank, who backs into the theft of a Matisse painting. In true moronic fashion, Frank decides to swipe the painting three days earlier than planned and spend the extra time vacationing with his long-suffering girlfriend, Roz (Bullock).

Somehow the bickering duo foil the police and move into a vacant cabin in a tony, remote New England island enclave. The haven, however, provides no respite to an already fractious relationship.

The FBI, led by the obsessive O’Malley (Yaphet Kotto), is convinced — despite weighty evidence to the contrary — that this is the work of a seasoned professional. The agents move with deliberate speed. Beano (Wayne Robson), the Boston barkeep who commissioned Frank, wants to retrieve the artwork and up the ante.

The islanders are equally problematic. New neighbor Evan Marsh (Stephen Dillane) takes a shine to Roz, while obnoxious preteen Todd (Jonathan Tucker) proves a thorn in Frank’s side when his house-tending chores are usurped by the intruders.

It could have been a recipe for antic fun, but the couple’s quarrelsome nature is grating, the cops are needlessly inept, the boy provides a misplaced element of creaky sentimentality, and the goons debase the hallowed cinema ground of petty crime.

Director Bill Bennett is at sea without a paddle and far from the acclaim and distinction of his Australian work. It’s as if his understanding of the American milieu (though the Canadian coastline subs for Boston and environs) went overboard.

Leary’s work feels much like catching a seasoned comic on a bad night. Bullock, playing dumb but good-hearted and groomed to look bad, displays none of the qualities that propelled her to recent stardom.

The supporting cast fares slightly better but can do little with the material: The dialogue has the crispness of aging lettuce, and the situations rely on coincidence, disbelief and a singular disregard for character.

The oblique title, a reference to Paul Revere’s ride, is a clue to a third-act plot twist. Deciphering its meaning is far more intriguing than what’s been captured on film.

Two If by Sea

Production

A Warner Bros. release of a James G. Robinson presentation of a Morgan Creek production. Produced by Robinson. Executive producers, Gary Barber, Bill Todman Jr. Co-producer, Michael MacDonald. Directed by Bill Bennett. Screenplay, Denis Leary, Mike Armstrong, from a story by Leary, Armstrong, Ann Lembeck.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Andrew Lesnie; editor, Bruce Green; music, Nick Glennie-Smith, Paddy Moloney; production design , David Chapman; art direction, Mark Hack; costume design, Olga Dimitrov; sound (Dolby), Glen Gauthier; assistant director, Michael Zenon; casting, Todd Thaler. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Jan. 10, 1996. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Frank O'Brien - Denis Leary Roz - Sandra Bullock Evan Marsh - Stephen Dillane O'Malley - Yaphet Kotto Beano - Wayne Robson Todd - Jonathan Tucker Fitzie - Mike Starr Quinn - Michael Badalucco Kelly - Lenny Clarke Sheriff Horn - John Friesen
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