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Wish They Weren't Here

Assorted Hollywood hotshots are still going downhill fast in Aspen and Telluride, but for the most part they regard Denver as fly-over country. So when the Mile High City shows up in a movie--even a movie as scummy as Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead--it's a good bet that locals will turn out to see the sights. Those include the Bluebird Theater (turned back into a porn house for this), Elitch's, Five Points, the Museum of Natural History and Coors Field, among other things. All captured for posterity back in the summer of 1994.

Once you get done rubbernecking, though, there's not much else to recommend in Gary Fleder's neo-noir prowl through the lower depths of deception, murder and disgusting personal habits. There's a touch of class here--suave hero Andy Garcia in a succession of Armani suits--but Quentin Tarantino, John Dahl and Michael Mann bring off this kind of ultrahip, down-and-dirty crime movie far better, and a gem like The Usual Suspects puts it to shame. Rookie director Fleder makes a show of sidestepping cliches, but there's something awfully familiar about a former tough guy who has to come out of retirement to pull one last job, with disastrous results.

That would be Jimmy the Saint (Garcia), who's gone legit by starting up a cheery little video-will service for terminally ill people. Folks haven't stopped dying in Denver (just check the obit pages), but trade is slow, and when Jimmy's old mob boss calls in his small-business loan, our man has to pony up by kidnapping an orthodontist (don't ask why) who's driving a van here from California.

Jimmy reassembles his old crew of misfits (including Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe and Bill Nunn). They botch the job but good. And that provokes the sinister revenge of the mob boss. Little wonder that it's creep specialist Christopher Walken, who out-weirds even himself by playing the part as a paraplegic plopped down in a wheelchair and attended by a buxom blonde. The other Tarantino-ite on hand is Steve Buscemi as a nerdy but highly efficient hit man in a snap-brim hat. The movie's oddest turn (and, depending on your point of view, the funniest) comes courtesy of Treat Williams as a psychopathic ex-boxer named Critical Bill. He's the nut job who really screws up the kidnapping, and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg makes sure we know about Critical Bill's peculiar dining practices when he was in jail. We also see him practicing his left hook--on a stiff in the funeral home where he works.

Meanwhile, Jimmy the Saint finds time to redeem a young streetwalker (Fairuza Balk) and fall in love with Gabrielle Anwar, who is heaven to look at but demonstrates the dramatic talents of a May D&F mannequin. Lest we start to think all the slashing and shooting to come is just good clean fun, there's also some pseudo-existentialist jive about choosing your death as carefully as you make your choices in life: Each of Jimmy's doomed gang wants to go out on his own terms, or something like that.

When it's all over, we go out, too, having seen the local color and having been had. The only thing we can suggest after ingesting our fair city's two hours of Hollywood fame is a title change: Things to Do in Denver When You've Seen Absolutely Every Other Movie in Town.--Gallo

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead.
Screenplay by Scott Rosenberg. Directed by Gary Fleder. With Andy Garcia, Treat Williams, Christopher Walken, Gabrielle Anwar and Christopher Lloyd.

 
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