Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
What Was I Watching Before? Bryan Singer Says 'X-Men: Apocalypse' Is "The True Birth Of The X-Men" What Was I Watching Before? Bryan Singer Says 'X-Men: Apocalypse' Is "The True Birth Of The X-Men" Review & Recap: 'True Detective' Season 2, Episode 3 'Maybe Tomorrow' Review & Recap: 'True Detective' Season 2, Episode 3 'Maybe Tomorrow' Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Watch: Epic New Trailer For Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' With Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, & More Watch: Epic New Trailer For Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' With Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, & More The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet Mads Mikkelsen And Hugh Dancy Released From Their 'Hannibal' Contracts Mads Mikkelsen And Hugh Dancy Released From Their 'Hannibal' Contracts Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Watch: Michael Fassbender Plays ‘Steve Jobs’ In New Trailer For Oscar-Contender Co-Starring Kate Winslet & Seth Rogen Watch: Michael Fassbender Plays ‘Steve Jobs’ In New Trailer For Oscar-Contender Co-Starring Kate Winslet & Seth Rogen Tom Cruise Still Gearing Up For 'Top Gun 2,' Story Will Involve Drone Warfare Tom Cruise Still Gearing Up For 'Top Gun 2,' Story Will Involve Drone Warfare Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season

Review: 'Pete Smalls Is Dead' A Caper Comedy That Doesn't Quite Cut It

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist November 11, 2011 at 10:00AM

Review: 'Pete Smalls Is Dead' A Caper Comedy That Doesn't Quite Cut It
13
PHOTO Pete Smalls Is Dead

Of all the son-of-Sundance filmmakers to come of age in the mid-90s, the one you hear the least about these days is Alexandre Rockwell. For a period, at least, he seemed like he was really going to be a mainstay in American independent cinema. He made a splash with 1992's witty "In the Soup," was a contemporary of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Roger Avery, and Allison Anders (who, granted, has been directing episodes of "Cold Case" in recent years, although she does pop up on "Trailers From Hell" every once in a while), and delivered a segment, with some of those filmmakers, for the Miramax anthology film "Four Rooms." It might be totally unwatchable now, but it was really supposed to be something back then.

In the years since "Four Rooms" he's only completed three films, while teaching film classes at NYU and marrying one of the co-stars of the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (Karyn Parsons, who played Hilary Banks). Well, now Rockwell is back, and trying to capture the zingy, devil-may-care spirit that made him such a promising filmmaker in the first place. The problem, though, is that much of the lustre is gone, and the film, the awkwardly titled "Pete Smalls Is Dead," is amateurish, convoluted, and unfunny.

Pete Smalls Is Dead Still

The premise of "Pete Smalls Is Dead," as best we can figure, involves K.C. (Peter Dinklage, free of Westeros), who owns a laundromat on the east coast and is severely indebted to some very nasty people. He owes them $10,000 so they steal his beloved dog, an event that just-so-coincidentally occurs at the same time his former best friend, a hack film director named Pete Smalls (Tim Roth, full tilt), accidentally drowns. His friend Jack (Mark Boone Junior) offers him the $10,000 if he'll come out west and help him bury their friend. K.C. complies but, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of crime films or film noir can attest, these are false pretenses, and a whole web of intrigue awaits our diminutive hero.

When K.C. shows up in LA, Jack tells him that the kung fu epic that Smalls was completing at the time of his death-by-ocean was actually based on a script he had stolen from K.C. years earlier. Everyone is in a mad grab to either finish the film or sell it off entirely, including Hal Lazar (Ritchie Coster), an unscrupulous producer who is overseeing Smalls' large estate; Bernie Lake (Steve Buscemi in a Halloween shop wig), a small-time, Roger Corman-esque producer; and Saskia (a debut performance Theresa Wayman, of the band all-girl rock band Warpaint). Also Seymour Cassel shows up as a gangster. Or something.

Pete Smalls Is Dead Photo

The plot gets hopelessly convoluted, without anything ever moving forward. Imagine a bunch of scenes where people ask other people for money, get beat up, and everyone speaks in profanity-laced pulpy paperback crime novel dialogue (sample narration: "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince. So Jack and I went frog-kissing"). In the age of the cloud, it seems incredibly anachronistic to think that a movie's fate rested in the hands of a single negative (ask David Fincher about the importance of the "digital workflow" and he'll be talking for a half hour), much less building whole swaths of "Pete Smalls Is Dead" around this premise, including a halfhearted heist sequence that just comes across as lame.

Rockwell, as a director, seems to be losing his edge – what used to feel sharp and crisp comes across as nagging and cynical. The dialogue goes around in circles, striving for some kind of meta-textual film noir cheekiness, but winds up as amateurish and confusing (just because you have characters saying the names of two dozen characters doesn't mean anyone's going to remember them). Technically, the film is an absolute mess. It looks like it was shot on a shoestring, which it most assuredly was, and having Carol Kane wander through the background of some scene isn't going to convince us otherwise. It seems to have been edited by someone new to the cutting edge world of digital editing software – why else would the movie warp into a bubble for no good reason, and what's with the black bar that covers Lazar's penis as he emerges from a pudding-like mud bath? Is that supposed to be funny? Or commentary? Either way, the gag is flaccid. Rockwell should have consulted Todd Solondz on how that's done.

Pete Smalls Dead Pic

What makes the movie a really disappointing waste of time instead of just a huge, colossal, you-could-have-been-catching-up-on-"Boardwalk Empire" fail, is that it could have been a great opportunity to showcase Peter Dinklage. Dinklage, as shown by his numerous film appearances and highlighted by this year's jaw-dropping first season of "Game of Thrones," is a terrific actor capable of great range but here he's saddled with a melodramatic back story (revealed in the pile-up of a third act), moping around the movie like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in "Synecdoche, New York." Half of the time you think: if he's got cancer, he's not talking enough to let us know. He's also burdened with having an entirely "reactionary" performance, forced to respond to the "kooky" things happening on screen. Everyone else is at least attempting some kind of loose sense of fun in their performances (Lena Headey shows up in a wig almost as bad as Buscemi's), but Dinklage isn't given the appropriate amount of snap for himself. It's a shame. And it keeps "Pete Smalls Is Dead" from ever really coming to life. [C-]

This article is related to: Peter Dinklage, Steve Buscemi, Review, Reviews


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates