Artisan // 2000 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Kevin Lee (Retired) // January 18th, 2002
Corruption is not a crime, it's a profession.
The 1990s opened up new avenues for aspiring filmmakers, because the '90s brought us Quentin Tarantino, who taught us that gangsters could be really hip and cool and you could make a lot of money taking a few down-on-their-luck big stars and making a low budget movie around them. If there's one thing we really need to hate about this trend it's that virtually everybody has tried to copy it. Granted, there have been a few gems that have come out of this re-stylized genre (Guy Ritchie's films Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, for example) but, like any genre, 99% of it is utter low-budget crap.
I've gotten a pretty good knack of determining what to expect from a movie by looking at the cover. Yes, you pretty much can judge a movie by its cover most of the time. Occasionally, I'm wrong and find a hidden gem. When a movie like Luck of the Draw lands in front of me and the first thing I notice is that's it's directed by the creator of Ghoulies (Luca Bercovici), I quietly think to myself that I'm glad there isn't a director's commentary on the DVD.
Jack Sweeney (James Marshall, Soccer Dog: The Movie) is an ex-con looking for an honest day's work, but nobody will hire him because he's an ex-con. This includes a bank he interviews at, which is significant because this is where he meets Mr. Tully (the bank president) and, more importantly, Rebecca Johnson (Wendy Benson-Landes). Jack walks out of the bank dejected but a bit of luck might be with him indirectly in the form of Dennis Hopper (True Romance, Easy Rider), who plays mobster Giani Ponti. I say indirectly because as the story begins, Ponti is in the middle of negotiations to purchase perfectly cast plates to print $100 bills from a French guy who got them from Iraq. (Don't ask me why Iraq was able to make perfect replicas of a U.S. Treasury printing plate or why they would have sold them to a French guy; they just did, okay? I hope somebody is looking into this.) Instead of paying for the plates, however, Ponti, being the reputable businessman he is, has some of his boys carjack the limo to take the plates. Unfortunately, Ponti hires people who seem like they've never touched a firearm before in their lives. This turns out to be okay, because the French guy's bodyguards are equally inept, as are the federal agents who show up on the scene. Over a dozen people stand right in front of each other with little to no cover and can't hit anything. Anyway, during the commotion the French guy tries to escape and drops the briefcase with the plates right in front of Jack, who, being the plucky down-on-his-luck scumbag that he it, steals it and runs off.
The U.S. Treasury agents, lead by senior man Max Fenton (William Forsythe, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo), soon learn that Ponti doesn't have the plates. Ponti soon learns that the feds don't have the plates. And the hunt is on.
Meanwhile, Rebecca happens to run into Jack after he's hidden the plates and invites him out for a drink with her and her dad. (No, this didn't make sense to me, either.) It turns out that her dad is Sterling Johnson (Frank Gorshin, Batman), who coincidentally happens to be the accountant at the bank Jack interviewed at and who also coincidentally happens to have a hefty gambling debt with Ponti.
Now, Jack's been in the lock-up for a couple of years so he doesn't really no what to do with the plates, so he gets in touch with his former partner Zippo (Michael Madsen, Reservoir Dogs) who decides to help him unload the plates for a cut of the action. Zippo quickly sets up a meeting with Macneilly (Ice-T, Leprechaun in the Hood) who then has his accountant, who coincidentally happens to be Sterling Johnson, arrange a financial transaction. The only problem is Sterling coincidentally stole all of Macneilly's money to square himself with Ponti and arranges a double-cross since he coincidentally happens to suddenly figure out that Macneilly is going to buy the plates that he knows nothing about.
Meanwhile, Jack is confronted at his apartment by one of Ponti's goons (Eric Roberts, Cecil B. Demented) and he gets away by defenestrating himself. (Folks, it's just not a complete movie without at least one good defenestration.) Jack manages to fall about three stories and gets up running and heads to Rebecca's house, where she lives with her dad, who, at this point, has been beaten like a red-headed stepchild by Eric Roberts, which I forgot to mention earlier -- my bad. Rebecca clearly gets so upset with Jack that she decides to have sex with him. ("My dad's in the next room over and you're a bloody, broken mess and I'm really ticked off at you, but I must have you right now.") I've often wondered what the secret is to finding a quick date. I've now learned that if I fling myself through my third floor apartment window, the women will beat down my door. (This falls under the Highlander Principle which states "a woman will immediately have sex with any man who nearly mortally wounds himself in front of her.")
The climax of the film occurs as Jack tries to make the sale of the plates and everybody and their uncle shows up. Oddly enough, it pretty much turns out that all of the characters coincidentally knew each other or coincidentally knew that the plates were being sold and also coincidentally knew the location of the sale, even though it's never determined how anyone actually knows this. (As best as I was able to figure Sterling Johnson apparently had latent psychic abilities.) Suddenly everyone realizes that they do know how to accurately shoot guns and the big Mexican Standoff occurs. I won't ruin the end except to say that if you saw any post-Reservoir Dogs gangster movie, you know exactly how this one ends.
This is usually the part of the review where I talk about the good things about this movie. Frankly, there are no good things about this movie except there's some scatterings of nudity throughout. This is in no way enough to redeem it, however.
The other good thing is that it's dethroned the previous worst movie I've ever seen. Frankly, I never thought I'd ever be able to shake off the fact that I saw the D.B. Sweeney/Marlee Matlin vehicle Hear No Evil in a theater, but now I can forget that dreadful event ever occurred because Luck of the Draw was far worse than that. I'll sleep soundly tonight. I think.
The video is presented in full screen, though I'm unable to determine if this is the original theatrical ratio or not. You see, the packaging states this movie is "presented in the original 1.33:1 format in which the film was shot" as well as it was "formatted from its original version to fit your screen." Additionally, the theatrical trailer is a widescreen trailer. I'm definitely confused. Aside from this, the video and audio transfer is fairly grainy and overall pretty horrible. It definitely screams "straight to video with a stopover in Australian and Icelandic theaters." The extras include a cast and crew biography as well as a theatrical trailer. The trailer actually makes this movie look pretty exciting and thrilling. Frankly, I wish I'd watched the trailer fifty times instead of actually watching the movie once.
The plot I described up in the Facts of the Case might sound pretty complex, and you're not too far off from that. There's a lot that's going on in Luck of the Draw. The problem is that there's too much going on and I'd hazard a guess that the director chopped a number of important bits out to get the movie down to about 100 minutes. That, or they ran out of film stock. Or, the screenwriters are highly-trained chimps. The plot degenerates when it turns out that everybody actually seems to know each other, and everybody mysteriously seems to know exactly what's going on at all times. It's like the writers decided "Gee, we only have five pieces of paper left. How about we wrap this up?" Maybe (and maybe I'm just talking crazy here) the director could have filmed a few transitional bits of dialogue and trimmed time by not having the final shoot out in slow motion. I think it's fairly safe to say that Luca Bercovici will never be confused with John Woo, so I'm not entirely sure why tried to be John Woo. On top of that, he also tries to be like Quentin and scores the entire film with surf music. Yes, that right. I even caught part of "Misirlou" (used as the theme of Pulp Fiction) blaring on part of the soundtrack. It made me angry enough to want to put a jar of spiders on Bercovici's head.
When coincidence after coincidence piles up, the movie gets really old and tired and you suddenly remember that you're watching something that exactly like True Romance, only different. My advice to the screenwriters would be to stop copying Tarantino and come up with their own thoughts. Or, maybe if they insist on copying Tarantino they can figure out what makes Tarantino's films as good as they are -- the snappy, hip lingo, the fleshed out three-dimensional characterization and the innovation of the stories.
The acting, as a whole, is pretty disappointing as well. Granted, I didn't expect too much from most of the no-name cast, but the stars of the cast were obviously doing nothing more than going through the motions. Hopper has an intensely blank stare and/or scowl on his face throughout most of the film, kind of like the one John Gruden gets every time the Raiders get a penalty called on them or fumble the ball on a scoring drive. I mean, this is Dennis freakin' Hopper here. The guy who starred in Easy Rider and who gave us probably the greatest movie scene ever (the one he did in True Romance with Christopher Walken -- there is no greater five minutes of screen time then that scene). Instead, we get a guy who looks around wondering if he'll actually see any royalties on this dog.
Nobody else in the cast seems to fare much better as they get stuck in their applicable stereotypes. I can only imagine the casting meeting:
"Okay, Dennis we want you play this gangster who scowls a lot and talks tough, which means you need to act crazy and say the F-word a lot. Michael, you get to act really cool and wear sunglasses. William, you'll be a tough as nails cop who smokes cigars. We provided tapes of all the Dirty Harry movies for you to study. And, let's see, for you, Ice-T, the only part we have left is an angry black guy. Think you can handle that?"
(I gave it a final score of "10" which might seem rather generous, but I want to make sure that lower scores are available just in case there are actually worse movies out there. I weep for mankind if there are.)
On the count of being a pale True Romance and Pulp Fiction
On the count of being trite, insipid and uninspired: guilty!
On the count of being completely nonsensical: guilty!
On the count of the cast going through the motions for a quick paycheck: guilty!
On the count of terrible cinematography and poor direction: guilty!
On the count of...oh, the hell with it. You get the idea.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Cast and Crew Information