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In the Soup Reviews

A semi-autobiographical black comedy from writer-director Alexandre Rockwell, IN THE SOUP is a wry and biting yarn highlighted by a cast of quirky characters and an outlandish and twisting plot line. Adolpho Rollo (Steve Buscemi) is an unemployed man with a dream. He's determined to see his five-hundred-page mega-screenplay, "Unconditional Surrender," made into a film. Convinced that his life's work isn't like other films--it's art--Adolpho has never considered selling it for something as trivial as money. That is, until the singing Bafardi Brothers (Steven Randazzo and Frank Messina), his bullying landlords, threaten bodily harm to the aspiring filmmaker. "Can a blind man direct a movie?" one of them inquires ominously. Desperate for cash, Adolpho appears on a cable talk show in the buff. The producer, Monty (Jim Jarmusch), only gives him forty bucks for the gig--hardly enough to appease the brothers. Dejected, Adolpho is forced to place an advertisement in the paper for a financial backer. He waits out the dry period sitting in a local coffee shop and watching his neighbor, Angelica (Jennifer Beals), a beautiful Hispanic waitress, serve espresso to the regulars. He's convinced that she will star in his movie and maybe his life. She won't give him the time of day. It isn't long before Adolpho receives a response to the ad. He arrives at a Grammercy Park apartment and is thrust into the mysterious world of Joe (Seymour Cassel), an aging yet virile shyster. Without seeing the screenplay, Joe quickly hands Adolpho a thousand dollars as a gesture of good will. Then he abruptly dismisses the filmmaker with a big kiss so that he can make love with his nymphomaniac girlfriend, Dang (Pat Moya). One thing is for sure, Joe believes that Adolpho has what it takes to make a great movie--even if he would prefer a simple love story instead of Adolpho's surreal epic of Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky and table-tennis balls. Soon after, Joe invites his new partner to dinner along with Joe's hemophiliac thug brother, Skippy (Will Patton), who sizes up Adolpho. Later that night, Angelica's ex-husband, Gregoire (Stanley Tucci), an emotional Frenchman she mistakingly married for her green card, knocks on Adolpho's door and begs to sleep on his floor. The next morning he's gone but has left one of Angelica's shoes behind. On Christmas morning, Joe tells him it's time they raised money for their film. He coerces Adolpho to join him as he steals a new Porsche from a cop's driveway. Adolpho's suspicions are confirmed--he's involved with a crook. Joe justifies the larceny by adding another forty thousand to the film's kitty. His intoxicating lifestyle soon overtakes Adolpho who accompanies him on other heists, getting caught up in Joe's web of charm, power and money. As the dollars roll in, Adolpho begins sending flowers to Angelica on a daily basis. She begins to warm up to him, and when Joe sees that his young charge is in love, he sets up a four-way New Year's Eve date. On the appointed night everything seems to be going well--Adolpho and Angelica are getting along splendidly, Joe has called Gregoire and scared him into paying up the three thousand dollars that he owes Angelica, and there's plenty of good champagne. Then Joe tries to slip his tongue down Angelica's throat, and the party comes to a crashing end. Adolpho is in too deep now to quit, almost able to see his film being shot. Joe and Skippy have come up with a master plan to raise all of the needed funds in one fell swoop. It's a drug deal and Adolpho will be the pick-up man. When the scheme goes awry, Skippy is murdered and Adolpho runs off to find Joe who has taken Angelica to get her money from Gregoire. Joe already knows about Skippy's death and suggests they drive out to the beach to work things out. Once there, a fight breaks out between the trio. Angelica grabs Joe's gun and accidentally fires it. For a moment they think Joe is shot, but when he smiles and says, "I fooled ya," Angelica storms off leaving Joe and Adolpho to wander the beach. They sit in the sand and Joe convinces Adolpho to make his movie--whatever it takes. Adolpho agrees but now he tells Joe it will be a simple love story about him, Joe and Angelica. Then Joe dies--the bullet had struck him after all. Alexandre Rockwell (HERO, SONS) has taken bits and pieces of his early filmmaking days, thrown in some outlandish fiction and ended up with a smart and original portrait of show business from the outside looking in. IN THE SOUP is sarcasm personified. Rockwell even gives his alter ego the pretentious name of Adolpho Rollo, an obvious homage to the likes of Godard and other European auteurs. Ranging from slapstick, to hip, to poignant, the film manages to encompass a full range of personalities while remaining true to its story. Shooting in dramatically lit b&w, Rockwell accents the low-budget nature of the protagonist's own dream project. The film's narration, though virtually dismissed in the second act, is always entertaining--offering some of the film's best dialogue. One hilarious trick has Adolpho's narration voicing an opinion about Skippy who is seated next to him in the car. As if hearing the thought process, Skippy says, "What?" The tongue in cheek dream sequences are tremendously melodramatic and effectively funny. Oddly though, the most memorable scene isn't comedic at all, but deals with an elderly, confused man (Sully Boyer) who is lost in his thoughts. There isn't enough one could say about the casting in this film--it's simply perfect. The story is elevated by the chemistry and sense of improvisation between Buscemi and Cassel. Rockwell was fortunate to match up these two talented performers. Busecmi, with his non-Hollywood looks and Everyman quality, is the perfect foil for Cassel's slick and manipulative aging gangster. Cassel charms the camera in every frame--effortlessly convincing the audience why Adolpho could so easily be sucked into his lifestyle. Beals (Rockwell's wife) plays Angelica shrewdly and with believable ethnicity. Patton continues to add to his list of bizarre madmen with an impressive turn as Skippy. Tucci, as the tormented Gregoire, is a standout, and cameos by Jarmusch and Carol Kane as the sleazy cable show producers are understated hilarity. The film would have been better served by eliminating a few of the ideas which may have worked in the screenplay but don't in the final print. The sequence with the ape and the midget, while sardonic enough in tone and a slap at gangster films, seems silly and out of place. The dramatic ending also has been seen before in other shapes and forms and could have been strengthened. Overall though, IN THE SOUP is consistently winning and uniquely eccentric. (Profanity.)