21 February 2008 | rsoonsa
Top-Flight Direction Results In A Highly Enjoyable Film.
Rosie Perez is the lead in this very engaging affair, cast as Mercedes, a young woman from Brooklyn who has resolved to become a film actress although not favoured by her circumstances, living in East Los Angeles and struggling with a series of fruitless auditions for any sort of part at all. Mercedes has hooked up with a married and washed-up actor, Harry Harrelson (Harvey Keitel), who at one time had performed in a television Western series during the 1970s, and seldom since, accepting him as her lover, in part from loneliness, and as well from a hope that film parts will be coming her way because of his "contacts", but these latter are of small consequence as Harry is simply self-delusional in his attempts at recovering what he perceives as past cinematic renown. In order to adequately support herself financially, Mercedes toils as a taxi dancer in a downtown Los Angeles Skid Row dance hall/bar while she continues carrying on her efforts to succeed at the motion picture business, and it is while there at the dance palace that a young immigrant from Mexico, Ernesto (Michael DeLorenzo), falls in love with her and the largest portion of the narrative depicts his efforts to please the object of his affections, even if they may mean losing her altogether. This essentially tradition rooted melodrama is given only a moderate budget, despite the presence of a goodly number of well-known players, including Steve Buscemi, Anthony Quinn, and Stanley Tucci, and was kept in the can for about a year before its rather desultory distribution and leaden marketing efforts on its behalf, more's the pity as its solid production characteristics are firmly complemented by Alexandre Rockwell's admirably controlled direction, a consistent virtue of his work, and on display in this film from its very opening scene, frames that form a montage behind the credits, featuring Perez at Skid Row's Fifth and Main Streets. Rockwell has often demonstrated that he operates very closely indeed with his cast, and this holds true in this instance as he allows his actors to create their roles while any ad libbing is neatened nicely via the editing process, resulting in an artistic success for the director, despite negative comments from some mainstream evaluators. The film's scoring is aesthetically spot on with a good deal of it contributed by Tito Larriva, who also plays as band boss for the taxi dancers. Acting honours here must go to the ever vital Perez, although nary a sub-par performance is turned in. A fair test for any film's quality is given when a viewer will watch it twice within a brief period. Sitting through this undervalued work will be considered a keen pleasure for many.