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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 Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

In CITY BY THE SEA, directed by Michael Caton-Jones (THE JACKAL), Detective Vincent LaMarca (Robert De Niro) is a cop caught in a vise. Sandwiched between two murderers, Vincent's father was electrocuted for a kidnapping gone bad and his son is being sought for accidentally killing a drug dealer, Vincent tries to do what he has done all of his life -- shut down his emotional response system. Although he wants to bring his kid in alive, he tells his old partner, Reg (George Dzundza, "Law & Order"), that he'll understand if he has to take him out.

For a while the movie can't decide whether it wants to be a crime drama or a character study. But before the first act is over, it's clear that the story is much more interested in the characters than the detective work. This is most easily seen in the character of "the woman in 3A." She has a name -- Michelle -- but she is more accurately described by her location in a cheap New York apartment close to Vincent's. They share sex as regularly as the six-o'clock news, but she is upfront about just wanting to get to know him, not to marry him. No chatterbox, Vincent, up until now, has never gotten around to telling her about having a son with his ex or having an infamous father.

The action, or more often lack of action, is set in the seaside town of Long Beach, New York, a chilling ghost town of a once popular boardwalk resort area. Now it's the home to junkies like Joey LaMarca (James Franco), a.k.a. Joey "Nova" after the hunk of junk that he drives.

Vincent's a real Ann Rand philosopher. "If he's a murderer, he's a murderer," Vincent tells Maggie (Patti LuPone), his ex, about their son. "He's got no one to blame but himself." Joey has his own point of view about his father. "I remember the day you were born," Vincent says with more factual seriousness than convincing compassion. "I remember the day you left," Joey replies with real feeling.

In an uneven performance as a cold fish, De Niro is alternately brilliant and exasperating. In his last dramatic scene, however, he comes close to sinking the entire movie with some teary-eyed overacting. Luckily, the movie is strong enough to survive this ending fiasco.

CITY BY THE SEA runs 1:48. It is rated R for "language, drug use and some violence" and would be acceptable for teenagers.

My son Jeffrey, age 13, gave it just * 1/2. He thought it was too slow, the actors sleepwalked through their parts and there were needless subplots. He did think that it picked up some toward the end.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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