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Layin’ Low

Jerry Jeremy Piven Mrs. Muckler Louise Lasser Angie Edie Falco Christy Frank John Hughes Manuela Allana Ubach Augie Paul Sand Vince Lenny Venito Patty Paul Schulze

Jerry Jeremy Piven Mrs. Muckler Louise Lasser Angie Edie Falco Christy Frank John Hughes Manuela Allana Ubach Augie Paul Sand Vince Lenny Venito Patty Paul Schulze

The starting point of “Layin’ Low,” the first feature from New York helmer Danny Leiner, is a drug heist gone wrong, but this engaging, very funny pic is anything but just another post-Tarantino tough-guy gangster outing. Leiner, who also penned the witty script, keeps the laughs coming most of the way through and gets big-time help from a uniformly strong cast, led by Jeremy Piven as quintessential Brooklyn loser Jerry Muckler.

“Layin’ Low” will likely pique the interest of indie distribs willing to take on a project that will require careful marketing, and pic’s blend of street-wise comedy and small-time mobster shenanigans will likely click with audiences. The challenge will be to convince the public that this is not your garden-variety drug-dealers-and-hoodlums pic.

In spite of a couple of gun battles and the presence of various drug peddlers , “Layin’ Low” is actually a mostly affectionate portrait of a couple of blue-collar layabouts and their unlikely quest for love, friendship and a ticket out of their dead-end lives. But it’s the drugs that complicate matters.

Life is not looking too rosy for Jerry Muckler (Jeremy Piven). He’s 33, still living at home with his parents, has no serious g.f. in sight and nothing resembling a real job. His best friend, Christy (Frank John Hughes), is not faring much better gambling and trying to score with one far-fetched scam scheme after another.

One night, Jerry agrees to help his pal Patty (Paul Schulze) move and, on the way to the job, they stumble into a mob shootout. Jerry somehow ends up behind the wheel of the van with Patty bleeding to death right beside him and a suspicious bag sitting on the seat. When Jerry discovers that the satchel contains a load of high-priced dope, he freaks out and realizes he has to go into hiding.

Christy sets him up to stay with his old Aunt Rose, a killer card sharp who regularly fleeces her new houseguest during hard-fought games of gin rummy. Christy’s cousin Angie (Edie Falco) shows up at Aunt Rose’s one day and at first wants to turn Jerry out on the street. But they soon warm to each other.

Leiner shows no small skill in balancing the comic and dramatic elements here , and he pays special attention to the details, from the memorable secondary characters to witty throwaway quips. Piven somehow manages to make Jerry seem like an endearing loser who is clearly smarter than he lets on, and Hughes showcases a feverish quirkiness as Christy. In a rare bigscreen appearance, Louise Lasser is perfectly cast as Jerry’s highly neurotic mother.

Jim Denault’s lensing captures the flavor of the streets of Brooklyn and former Lounge Lizard Evan Lurie contributes a cool, sinuous jazzy score.

Layin' Low

Production: A Shooting Gallery production. Produced by Nina Shiffman. Executive producer, Larry Meistrich. Directed, written by Danny Leiner.

Crew: Camera (color), Jim Denault; editor, Michelle Boticelli; music, Evan Lurie; production designer, Steve Rosenzweig. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival, Oct. 18, 1996. Running time: 96 MIN.

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