As he showed in his first film, the uneven but occasionally funny and poignant “The Pompatus of Love,” Schenkman is intrigued by the fears and anxieties that define the American male psyche. Influenced by Barry Levinson’s seminal comedy “Diner,” and characterized by the same structural problems that marred Levinson’s overblown “Sleepers,” the character-driven “Coney Island” attempts to mix elements of a comic, quirky tale with a more serious examination of what constitutes true friendship.
Yarn begins with the random meeting of Stan and Daniel as children on a Brooklyn street. It then jumps ahead to the same figures at the age of 12, adding a third buddy, Richie, and a girl, Gabby. Most of the story centers on the trio of Daniel (Jon Cryer), Stan (Rick Stear) and Richie (Rafael Baez) as high-schoolers and young adults.
The premise of the narrative is the disappearance of Richie, who, rumor has it, has been seen, apparently insane, at the amusement park in Coney Island. Though they have lost touch over the years, Stan and Daniel decide to embark on a trip to find their missing childhood friend. The search also gives them a “legit” reason to skip out on their respective unfulfilling jobs; Daniel works at a pawn shop and Stan at a pizza parlor.
Structured as a seriocomic road movie, what ensues is a sentimental meller with certain requisite ingredients: Revelation of secrets, betrayals and apologies, self-discovery — and moral lessons. Trip is taken on a cold wintry day, which endows the tale with a bleak, melancholy ambiance that is heightened by gloomy visuals of an empty amusement park.
In their travels, the two buddies come across a philosophical skee-ball attendant, a most unlikely pair of gay lovers on the verge of breaking up, a photographer with a tale of woe, a compassionate waitress and a freak show at which they are the only spectators. Poorly integrated into the proceedings are flashbacks of the three friends at different phases of their lives. We see how Richie was ridiculed by his girlfriend following an unfortunate sexual incident, how Daniel betrayed Richie’s trust by sleeping with the same girl, how Richie forever blamed himself for the accidental death of his younger sister and found refuge living under the Coney Island boardwalk. There are also disclosures about the other two young men, including Stan’s financial troubles and descent into alcoholism, which ended his relationship with the beautiful Gabby (Ione Skye).
The film’s constant transitions between present and past become tedious, and prevent a more direct emotional involvement in the story. Helmer Schenkman also has trouble balancing the various moods of his tale, which abruptly shifts from broad comedy to wrenching melodrama to sheer pathos, particularly in the last reel.
In the lead roles, Cryer, who’s also credited as co-scripter and co-producer, Stear and Baez give proficient performances that serve the material well, though they can’t elevate it to the poignancy and depth intended by the director. Tech credits are serviceable without being exceptional.