A film noir formula is updated to modern, multicultural LA 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.
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. Tanya really gets miffed when she accidentally discovers that he’s also sitting on $130,000 in disability money he never bothered to mention.
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 young gardener who’s secretly in love with her. She puts out feelers to Benny to see if they can hook hubby in a handy 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. He throws a lot of balls in the air and keeps them juggling right to the end, which offers a pleasing twist few will see coming. The cast is also carefully balanced, with their marked contrasts used to good effect.