Trend-spotters, take note: Just a few weeks after Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner blasted off as geriatric astronauts, here come Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Dan Hedaya and Seymour Cassel as grumpy old goodfellas. Solid numbers posted by “Space Cowboys” suggest there’s a substantial potential aud for pics that skew toward the often-neglected over-40 crowd.
“The Crew” may not soar in the same B.O. orbit but could still show some sturdy legs as a theatrical performer into the fall. Ancillary prospects are even rosier for this lightweight but surprisingly likable comedy.
Prologue intros lead characters as young guns in their mid-’60s New Jersey heyday. Under the leadership of take-charge Bobby Bartellemeo (Casey Siemaszko), hot-tempered Joey “Bats” Pistella (Matt Borlenghi), taciturn Tony “Mouth” Donato (Billy Jayne) and slow-witted Mike “The Brick” Donatelli (Jeremy Ratchford) hijack a delivery truck, beat up the driver and torch the contents. Minimal violence is played for laughs, but there’s little doubt that the four mobsters play for keeps.
More than 30 years later, the bad boys are reintroduced as cranky geezers in the winter of their discontent. Bobby (Dreyfuss), Bats (Reynolds), Brick (Hedaya) and Mouth (Cassel) endure fixed-income living in the Raj Mahal, the last retirement hotel in Miami’s increasingly yuppiefied South Beach district. “You said the good times were going to last forever,” Bats complains with typical surliness. “I thought we’d be dead by now,” Bobby responds.
A bad situation threatens to get much worse as upscale tenants invade the newly trendy area. When their rents are doubled by managers seeking a younger, richer clientele, the wheezy wiseguys return to their wicked, wicked ways by faking a mob rub-out to scare away the yuppie scum.
Brick — gainfully employed as a makeup artist at a mortuary — borrows a John Doe corpse from his workplace and plants it in the Raj Mahal lobby. Unfortunately, neither he nor his buddies can muster up sufficient nerve to plug the stiff with a shotgun. But never mind: Somebody drops the weapon, and an accidental shot hits the mark. Very soon, gun-shy residents are departing.
Unfortunately, their scam barely takes the wiseguys through the pic’s first act. The corpse is identified as the elderly father of Raul Ventana (Miguel Sandoval), a South American drug lord who assumes the “murder” is the opening round in a gang war. While Ventana responds accordingly, ordering his henchmen to whack various rivals, Bobby advises his buddies to keep quiet and remain inconspicuous. Trouble is, Mouth says too much while he’s cavorting with Ferris (Jennifer Tilly), a bosomy hooker-stripper. Ferris promises to keep quiet — but only if the old gray goodfellas kill her wealthy stepmother (Lainie Kazan).
Scripter Barry Fanaro is an old hand at wringing laughs from the antics of Florida retirees — he wrote 104 episodes of “The Golden Girls,” which he also exec produced. Not surprisingly, there is a sitcomish flavor to some of the snappy one-liners in “The Crew” (which could easily be spun off as a weekly series). But the piece is constructed with genuine skill, and the storytelling contrivances interlock smoothly. Better still, Fanaro does much to humanize the lead characters to keep them from coming off as one-dimensional caricatures; at the very least, they are caricatures with two dimensions.
The sentimentality is gently but firmly restrained in a potentially treacly subplot, as Bobby discovers that his long-lost daughter just happens to be Det. Olivia Neal (Carrie-Anne Moss), the cop in charge of the Raj Mahal murder investigation. A similar discipline is evidenced in pic’s handling of a running gag about the ineptitude of Ventana’s henchmen. The joke is all the funnier for not being overplayed, and Sandoval enhances the humor by providing a sly sendup of the stereotypical South American villain.
Returning to bigscreen helming for the first time since 1988’s “Hot to Trot” (a guilty pleasure that’s conspicuously absent from his press-kit bio), director Michael Dinner does a first-rate job of encouraging his lead players to jell as a genuine ensemble.
Dreyfuss — who, at 52, is the youngest of the bunch, though he looks older — handles the extremes of toughness and tenderness with crowd-pleasing assurance. Reynolds, 64, clearly enjoys being able to go over the top while acting his age. His robustly comical performance should help solidify his new status as a versatile character actor.
Hedaya, 60, is engaging and amusing — and, occasionally, almost sweet — as Brick, the wiseguy who isn’t nearly as dumb as his buddies suspect. With a minimum of dialogue as the near-mute Mouth, 65-year-old Cassel makes a strongly ingratiating impression.
As detective Neal, “Matrix” co-star Moss proves she doesn’t need high-tech f/x or a slinky leather catsuit to hold attention. Her role doesn’t amount to much, but she delivers when given half a chance, as in the scene in which she slams her unfaithful ex-boyfriend, a macho cop (Jeremy Piven) who gets what he richly deserves. Tilly and Kazan are aptly cartoonish in roles that call for overstatement.
Cinematographer Juan Ruiz-Anchia employs a variety of lighting stratagems to make “The Crew” look a great deal more substantial than it is. Indeed, the entire tech package is richly textured; listen closely at the very end, and you’ll hear Joe Pesci, the original goodfella himself, singing “Old Man Time,” one of several cleverly chosen tunes on the soundtrack.