British TV vet Donald Coutts has captured some Bill Forsyth magic in “American Cousins,” a sly and self-assured dramatic comedy about two New Jersey gangsters who hide out with a law-abiding cousin in Glasgow. Laffer compares favorably with such quirky regional gems as Forsyth’s “Local Hero” and “Comfort and Joy,” as well as “Waking Ned Devine.” Distinctive blend of warm comedy and crime-related violence should result in an extensive fest family tree, healthy sales and strong ancillary life.
A botched crime summit held in Kiev leaves Mafiosi Settimo and Gino Bazaglia (Dan Hedaya, Danny Nucci) on the run from the Ukranian mob. Wounded, Settimo arranges with New Jersey-based Tony (Vincent Pastore) to go underground during their layover in Glasgow with a distant relative who they’re sure can hide them from a pair of inept Liverpool-based hit men (Stephen Graham, Jake Abraham).
Unfortunately, that kin turns out to be cousin Roberto (Gerald Lepkowski), a shy straight-arrow stamp collector who runs his father’s modest Cafe del Rio with grandfather Nonno (Russell Hunter) and faithful employee Alice (Shirley Henderson), who patiently waits for Roberto to profess his love.
Despite their obvious differences, something like affection develops between the two camps: Gino and Roberto have a fish-frying contest on their way to a more serious showdown over Alice’s affections, while Settimo helps settle things between Robert and local thug Jojo (Stevan Remkus) involving the deserted church on the cafe property that Roberto dreams of transforming into a proper trattoria.
Sergio Casci’s script leaves each of the principals plenty of room to create characters of depth and eccentricity as they comedically explore the differences between the two cultures. Along the way, Hedaya leavens his pop-eyed tough guy act with some genuine warmth and humor, while Scots-born stage and tube vet Lepkowski demonstrates leading man potential by bringing just the right amount of aw-shucks humility to the sensitive Roberto.
Coutts lets the story tell itself, directing in a straightforward yet light manner designed to bring characterization to the fore. The technical package is as skilled as it needs to be; though pic was shot entirely in and around Glasgow it often feels claustrophobic, opening out to breathe only when they travel to Loch Lomond and participate in a local dance (which the bemused Settimo describes as “wrestling to music”). Running gag of Italo tunes against the Scottish backdrop typifies affectionate cross-cultural wit of proceedings.