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City By The Sea

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: City By The Sea

Starring: Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: September 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: James Franco, William Forsythe, Eliza Dushku, Patti LuPone

Review by Harvey Karten
4 stars out of 4

The Long Beach, Long Island Chamber of Commerce is not going to like the way its community is depicted in Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones's "City By the Sea." The Asbury Park, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce would have mixed feelings since, though most of the footage is taken from that town, some jobs were created by the studio in making this work. The place is a dump, something like Coney Island today, a victim of changing times, changing neighborhoods, different options for tourists-on-the-cheap--such as Atlantic City, where a ride on the one-arm bandit has captured more enthusiasm than roller coasters of the generic amusement park. But that's OK in the service of a greater good, which is to show that taking drugs is not a viable option for anyone who wants to remain a member of the human race. Drugs may give you the high you seek or the relaxation you need, but oh, what a price. Just look at how the white powder affects a guy with James Dean looks (and who in fact played that 20th Century icon on a TV program last year on TNT).

21-year-old Joey LaMarca (James Franco) has had his young life ruined by the junk. After getting into a fight with a scuzzy dealer named Picasso, he is implicated in the murder of the lowlife, is chased by Picasso's boss who is out to kill the lad, and is ultimately confronted by his estranged dad, Vincent (Robert De Niro) who must decide whether to arrest him or to get him safely out of town ahead of the cops and the dealer.

At least one woman was heard to comment upon leaving the theater that the movie was "touching," and for those who believe that men and women see films differently, this point must be considered a plus for the feature. For the most part, however, "City By the Sea" is on the level of a fairly typical cop show that you can find easily enough on the tube, its forceful acting by De Niro and Franco brought down by a banal and predictable script from Ken Hixon ("Inventing the Abbots"). Instead of wit, we settle to the standard beef by the ex-wife (Patti LuPone) whose husband, Vincent, had walked out on both her and their messed- up son some fourteen years back. The young man is, of course, repeating his dad's errors, about to walk out on his girl friend and their new baby while spending quite a bit of time blaming his drug- taking on dad's not being in the grandstands on the day that Joey played quarterback and led his school to its first victory over Cedarhurst high in twenty-four years.

Frances McDormand does OK in her role as the 43-year-old girl friend of the detective, living just downstairs in 3-A and phoning him up whenever she gets the need for a bedmate, and De Niro successfully underplays his role in much the way that Al Pacino did likewise as Victor Taransky in "Simone." The trouble is not so much that this is a by-the-number cop story as that no-one has anything to say that is of much more interest than what goes down at the checkout at the local Wal-Mart.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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