Movies about lowlifes, here and abroad

I’m a huge fan of Elaine May’s 1971 film A New Leaf but not so much her better-regarded The Heartbreak Kid. After them came MIKEY AND NICKY which wound up in editing hell until 1976 then went on to become a cult film. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like joining the cult.

Nicky (John Cassavetes) is a bottom-tier crook who’s convinced he’s been marked for a hit. He turns to lifelong buddy Mikey (Peter Falk) for help, unaware that Mikey’s fingering him for hit man Ned Beatty. The killer, however, gets lost reaching the execution site so Mikey and Nicky wind up on a rambling journey through African-American bars, hookers’ apartments, a graveyard, a night bus and a 24-hour movie theater. The two leads are excellent, but “two guys spend the movie talking” is not an easy sell for me (e.g., the pretentious Figures on a Landscape and the often pretentious, sometimes inspired My Dinner with Andre) and I wouldn’t have suffered if I’d never caught this. Joyce Van Patten plays Nicky’s long-suffering wife and M. Emmett Walsh is a bus driver. “Everybody said you were a nice girl.”

UP AND DOWN (2006) is a Czech film in an equally scruffy, seedy milieu, though it could be transferred to the U.S. without missing a bit. The various intersecting plot threads involve smugglers, a baby-stealing young woman and her soccer-hooligan boyfriend and an expat with an extremely tangled extended family. Much more entertaining. “You can never tell what it is when it’s covered in batter.”

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