A frustrated Jewish tax investigator teams with a frustrated Puerto Rican cop to solve a case involving Brooklyn's Jewish Russian Mafia in the ethnically over-pumped "Taxman." The complicated scam they uncover is an excuse for characters to vent their heroic aspirations and human failings in this would-be noir thriller with slapstick undertones. Video markets should be its first port of call.

A frustrated Jewish tax investigator teams with a frustrated Puerto Rican cop to solve a case involving Brooklyn’s Jewish Russian Mafia in the ethnically over-pumped “Taxman.” The complicated scam they uncover is an excuse for characters to vent their heroic aspirations and human failings in this would-be noir thriller with slapstick undertones. Video markets should be its first port of call.

While following a suspected tax evader, Al Benjamin (Joe Pantoliano) stumbles across a number of bloody murders. He pursues the case against the wishes of the police department and his boss in the tax office, with the unsolicited aid of rookie cop Joseph Romero (Wade Dominguez.) Comically inept, the pair wind up fraternizing with a boss of Brighton Beach’s Russian immigrant community and his beautiful, oddly available daughter, Nadia (Elizabeth Berkley.) They laboriously convince a state prosecutor to look into the case, but much screen time later, they still haven’t nailed Mr. Big. That is saved for the action ending, a foot chase around the streets of Brooklyn.

A kind of anti-police-film movie, “Taxman” makes a heavy-handed attempt to fly above genre stereotypes, but fails to find a credible alternative. Most of the time it seems like a failed comedy, exulting in its grungy locales, tacky dialogue and a Marlowe-style voiceover that’s much less funny than it’s meant to be.

It’s a good thing helmer Avi Nesher and Roger Berger’s script so frequently pits Pantoliano and Dominguez against each other in silly squabbles, because it helps to mask the total lack of chemistry between the two actors. Pantoliano is particularly grating as the neurotically aggressive tax man who screws up everything he touches. Dominguez is irritatingly passive in the role of his sycophantic sidekick. Whatever would bring these two people together? The beautiful Berkley adds a few minutes of relief as the Russian girl ready to do anything to help her dad, even a tryst with unpleasant Al. Or is it love?

Taxman

Production

A Counterclock Pictures production in association with Open City Films. (International sales: Kushner-Locke Intl.) Produced by Avi Nesher, Kathy Jordan. Executive producer, Pascal Borno. Co-producers, Joana Vicente, Jason Kliot. Directed by Avi Nesher. Screenplay, Nesher, Roger Berger.

Crew

Camera (color), Jim Denault; editor, Alexander Hall; music, Roger Neill; production designer, Michael Krantz; costume designer, Carolyn Grifel; sound (Dolby stereo), Robert Ghiraldini. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 14, 1998. Running time: 116 MIN.

With

Al Benjamin - Joe Pantoliano
Joseph Romero - Wade Dominguez
Nadia - Elizabeth Berkley
With: Michael Chiklis, Robert Townsend.
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