Judge Chris Claro put up his dukes once, on a high shelf where no one could reach them.
Life could be a dream, sweetheart.
If you were considering a star for a lighthearted caper film about a bunch of past-their-prime doo-woppers, who could you shortlist? De Niro? Of course. DeVito? Why not? But Davi? Robert Davi? He of the menacing visage and bruising basso profundo? The guy who's been the bane of everybody from John McClane to James Bond?
Yes, that Robert Davi.
Facts of the Case
George (Chazz Palminteri, Bullets Over Broadway) and Danny (Davi) are cousins who are trying to recapture the long-ago fifteen minutes of noteriety they had as two of the four members of The Dukes. Working side by side in their aunt's restaurant, divorced Danny and plus-size maven George keep angling for opportunities through their equally washed-up manager, Lou (Peter Bogdanovich, The Sopranos). But when the gigs don't materialize and money problems do, the boys figure a heist might be their way out.
What The Dukes lacks in technical prowess and production values it more than makes up for in charm. As co-author of the screenplay with actor James Andronica, Davi suffuses the story with genuine affection for the characters. More than just a gang of lovable losers, Danny and George, along with buddies Murph (Elya Baskin, Moscow on the Hudson) and Armond (Frank D'Amico, Grounded for Life), are middle-aged guys trying not to lose any more ground. Whether trying to maintain relationships with their kids or scrounging up enough work to keep their health insurance, the four men at the center of The Dukes are genuinely resonant characters.
That's a good thing, because much of The Dukes is taken up with an overlong, clumsily staged gold robbery. The warmth that Davi the writer brings to the proceedings is undermined by his directorial ineptitude, to the extent that there are a couple of scenes in the film in which actors step on each other's lines. Davi is fortunate that pros Palminteri and Bogdanovich are on hand to help distract viewers from the second-rate camera work and threadbare production design. Further classing up The Dukes are such dependable performers as Melora Hardin (The Office), Miriam Margolyes (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), and Bruce Weitz (Hill Street Blues).
Despite the less-than-stellar production values, the 1.85:1 video of The Dukes is pristine, emphasizing the contrast between the southern California sunshine and the characters' twilight. The 5.1 surround audio is serviceable, with a raft of vintage doo-wop hits punctuating the action. In the informative and entertaining commentary track that also features his cinematographer, Michael Goi, Davi discusses not only the minutiae of the production of The Dukes, but the real-life tribulations of co-star D'Amico, whose character, like the actor himself, was a diabetic whose health coverage was in jeopardy due to a lack of acting work. Davi reveals that he shot some scenes that took on Armond's/D'Amico's healthcare woes head-on, but they didn't make the final cut. Sadly, D'Amico died shortly after he completed his work on The Dukes. The interviews—with Davi, Bogdanovich, and Baskin, as well as the film's composer and one of its producers—reinforce the low-budget nature of the whole affair, as they are both poorly edited and, seemingly, shot before the camera operator decided on his final framing. As a result, the first few seconds of some of the reminiscences are muddied by a jittery camera searching for a focal point. Kind of unforgivable.
Despite it's numerous flaws, it's hard not to enjoy The Dukes. Seeing a noted baddie such as Davi take a heartfelt stab at comedy and bouncing off a fleet and relaxed Palminteri make for an entertaining 90 minutes, despite the amateurish direction.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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