Universal // 2001 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // September 7th, 2002
Getting To the Top Can Be Murder.
Also known as Cocozza's Way, don't be fooled by any permutation of the title or the picture inserts on the disc. Even before you've watched this movie, it's trying to deceive you. First, the original title tries to make you think of superior films like Carlito's Way. Don't. Then, the current title entices you to believe this film will have the lure and charisma of The Chairman of the Board. It doesn't. Lastly, the DVD case leads you astray with a big picture of Las Vegas on the front and back covers. Let it be known that not one scene is set in that fabulous city. And then you get around to watching the movie and it all falls tragically into place. This movie is not worth your time, for it's dull, plodding, uninspired, and anticlimactic.
"There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."
Toni Cocozza (Ian Hart, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, The End of the Affair) is a lounge singer in Glasgow, Scotland. He fancies Frank Sinatra -- his career, that is -- and he aspires to follow in the footsteps of his idol and someday make it big in that shining Mecca in the desert, Las Vegas. As he would have it, Toni's repertoire consists solely of songs by Ole Blue Eyes himself. One night at the dirty dive where he regularly performs, he receives a request to do a song. As it's an Elvis song, Tony refuses; he's strictly Sinatra. His friend and backup pianist, Bill (Alun Armstrong, Proof Of Life, Sleepy Hollow), points out to him that the request has come from Connolly, the head of the local Mafioso, and that it would be in his very best interests to fulfill the request. Reluctantly, Toni does so.
As fate would have it, Connolly and his wife Dainty are huge fans of Toni's, and almost instantly, they begin to bring them into their world. At first, there's nothing dangerous or illegal going on with Toni. They've simply asked him to tag along to some events and also asked him to sing from time to time. It's only after Toni has begun to acclimate to the newfound power from this friendship that he's pulled in to doing some dirty work.
The number one man in this local crime syndicate is Chisolm (Brian Cox, The Affair Of The Necklace, The Bourne Identity, Rushmore). It is he who ends up having the most contact with Toni, and thus ends up being the one who "asks" Toni to do them some "favors." Quicker than you can say "I amuse you? I make you laugh? What the f*** is so funny about me?" Toni is neck-deep in trouble with the mob. They've done some things for Toni and so Toni has to do some things for them. He's quite uncomfortable with what is being asked of him, but he can't seem to summon up the courage to say no. And because of his new associations with the local Mafia, Toni is changing for the worse, and his friends, namely Bill and new girlfriend Irene (Kelly Macdonald, Gosford Park, Trainspotting), have begun to distance themselves.
Will Toni be able to get away from the mob? How many more favors will he have to do for Chisolm? Will Toni be able to reconcile with Bill and Irene? Is Toni any good at his lounge act?
I was exceptionally disappointed with just about everything on this disc, and I think I can complain about something in every category. Regardless of my current distaste, I really do not have a lot of venom I want to shoot at this little Scottish film. So, I think I'll first try to rustle up some good things to say about the film.
The Good (Note: some of these points are indeed a stretch):
* The actual distributor of the film is a little outfit called "DNA Films." Their logo, which comes after Universal's, is pretty cool.
* The video transfer is by and large good; it's not perfect yet its detractions are minimal. On the downside, the picture is a bit soft and grainy with a light touch of edge enhancement (nothing too distracting though). On the upside, colors are accurate (nothing overly vibrant and lush, however), the picture is sharp, and -- aside from the edge enhancement -- there are no transfer flaws: no artifacting, pixeling, and the whatnot.
* All of the actors, including the supporting cast, give excellent performances. But it was sometimes difficult for me to take Ian Hart seriously as, for some inexplicable reason, he reminded me of a young Norm Macdonald (SNL).
* I enjoyed the direction and cinematography of the film. For the latter, I would have liked more outdoors shots, but the script obviously called for more interior set work.
* This movie has the second-best Trek reference (as I see it) in a DVD released this year: "Sinatra was a baldy." "No he wasn't!" "He was toupee of the century. You can still see it. He left it to Bill Shatner in his will."
* I checked out the English subtitles on the disc and found their "placement" in relation to the characters onscreen to be exceptional. I cannot recall subtitles being laid out so well on any other DVD I've watched.
* You have two audio tracks to choose from: DTS or 5.1 Dolby Digital. I always choose DTS first then go and give the 5.1 Dolby Digital a quick run-through during some "key" scenes. While listening to the DTS track, I was surprised at how much potent the score and music was compared to the dialogue. I'd set the volume at a comfortable level for the dialogue, which is actually crisp and clear on both tracks, and then find myself being jolted when the music kicked in. Alas, the DTS track is quite unbalanced. Fortunately, the 5.1 Dolby Digital track is quite better and does not suffer from any imbalance. Thus, for the first time ever, I have to rate a DTS worse than the 5.1 Dolby Digital.
* This is a movie based and filmed in Scotland. Hence, the accents are thick, making it difficult to follow the dialogue. I was thus in need of utilizing the subtitle track for the entire movie.
* And, the ultimate problem with the movie is that it's slow. The pacing in this film is so excruciatingly unhurried, that I was afraid I was going to fall asleep. Fortunately, there were enough musical numbers interspersed throughout to film to jolt me awake (see DTS above). There's nothing wrong with a film taking its time when it's done right and leads to a satisfying payoff (e.g. The Sixth Sense), but we don't get anything of the sort here. The film takes its sweet old time to get from A to B to C and finally to climax D. Things do get a tad more exciting at D, but then you realize that the ending is dumb. The payoff is not worth the time you just invested. It's an easy, highly predictable, sugarcoated ending that is just plain improbable based on the characters we've just watched. It couldn't happen as they suggest and so the film loses any possible credibility.
* Lastly, seeing as Toni is a bumbling dolt, why would Chisholm and Connolly stoop to bring him in on a job? Sure, they say they're desperate. Sure, maybe he is a fresh new face that the cops won't take notice. But because he's so completely incompetent and green, the chances of the job failing really are too big when he's in tow. Any well organized crime syndicate would know better than to bring in such a rube.
Is it good or bad? This movie was released across the pond in 2001. On this side of the water, it's never seen the inside of any theater. The release date was originally set for mid-2001, but it was pushed back and back and back until they finally gave up and are giving it to us straight-to-video. Because of that fact, we're getting a bare bones disc. In true Paramount-fashion, there's nothing on the disc but the movie. (Yes, I know this isn't a Paramount movie, but they are the masters of the bare bones so I feel it's proper to give credit where it's due.)
Uh, Ian really sang well!
No he didn't! He could barely lip sync, and he kept hiding his mouth behind the microphone.
Well, Ian's hair is really cool and retro!
No, his hair is atrocious. Even his girlfriend in the movie picks on how bad his perm looks.
Then, the acting is really good!
Okay, I'll give you that one. Brian Cox is a great character actor and does another superb job with his role. He and the rest of the cast did a fine job with the limp material presented to them.
Thanks. I really liked that part when Toni thought he was going to die,
and then he isn't killed and ends up singing "She's a Tramp."
Sure. If that works for you...
Bottom line, Strictly Sinatra is not worth your time. It is not the most hideous film ever put on disc, but the plot is thin and wanting. If you're interested in catching a film where a young man gets pulled into the Mafia, then you don't want to pick this one up. I could easily rattle off a dozen other films for you to buy or rent, but you could probably name two dozen so I won't even waste anymore of your time.
Guilty. When it's straight-to-video, 99% of the time you're in for a rough ride and this one certainly falls into that category. As Universal wisely did not attempt a theatrical release with this dud, sentence is reduced to time served. Case adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2002 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site
* The Spirit of Sinatra