Thursday, July 28, 2011

DVD Review: THE SWEET LIFE (2003)

LABEL: Synapse Films 
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 86 minutes
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital Stereo
DIRECTOR: Rocco Simonello
CAST: James Lorinz, Barbara Sicuranza, Joan Jett
TAGLINE: A romantic comedy... for people who hate romantic comedies!

Romantic comedies are easily one of the most eye-rollingly awful genre of films, at least in my experience and per my tastes. The prospects for this quirky indie comedy that had been collecting dust unreleased for the past eight years didn't exactly didn't promise what I would call satisfying entertainment. It had been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for a few weeks and probably would've sat there a while more if not for my wife crankily demanding "I'm not watching any of those hillbilly movies tonight, I want something romantic". "Hillbilly", that's her affectionate term for indie and micro-budget flicks that lack a certain amount of visual polish.

It was with that request that I scoured my stack of DVD screeners for something subversively "romantic" and with that I returned to the living room with CAMILLE 2000 (1969), an erotic love story. After inspecting the boxart she recognized director Radley Metzger's name from a previous viewing of THE IMAGE (1975) and summarily dismissed it with "classy porn is not romantic", sometimes I wonder to myself how I ended up with this woman, it must be love. Back to the stack out jumped THE SWEET LIFE which I knew little about though one name in particular popped out at me, Roy Frumkes, whom produced the 80's splatter classic STREET TRASH (1987) and Greg Lamberson's SLIME CITY MASSACRE (2010). Those aren't the films I remembered his name from though, and after a quick IMDB search I figured it out. Frumke directed the DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) fan documentary DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD (1985). THE SWEET LIFE director Rocco Simonelli is a writer turned first-time director who co-penned the Tom Berenger vehicle THE SUBSTITUTE (1996) which meant very little to me not having seen it. So, despite the intriguing Frumke association I still had very little interest in this indie rom-com. It came down to two things; first, it has the words romantic comedy on the boxart which fit my wife's demands and secondly, it's a Synapse title, a label who this past year introduced me to Jose Mojica Marin's EMBODIMENT OF EVIL, the 80's slasher THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD and the surreal Hammer bloodsucker VAMPIRE CIRCUS. In my experience great genre film labels are like directors, once you get a feel for their body of work you just trust their discretion and go with their choices sight unseen for better or worse, it's a devotion.

THE  SWEET LIFE is a romantic comedy about two New York brothers who  couldn't be more different in their approach to women. Michael (James Lorinz, FRANKENHOOKER) is a
bland, sensitive film magazine columnist who lacks self confidence, especially when it comes to the ladies. His shallow, twice divorced brother Frankie (Robert Mobely) is quite the opposite; a self-confident ladies man looking for a good time, not a lifetime. Frankie admonishes his brother for being what he calls a "pussy" and tells him he should treat women shit, cuz that's what they really want, he points out that the women in his office all think he's gay. The problem is that Michael is a true romantic at heart, he sets his sites low and has always had an affinity to Frankie's girlfriends. The film opens with a flashback to once such painful memory in which Michael leaves a heart-shaped box of chocolates for Frankie's girlfriend and then she and Frankie eat them while laughing at Michael. When Michael is introduced to Frankie's current plaything, a sexy tattooed bartender named Lila (Barbara Sicuranza, ANAMORPH), the cycle continues.

 Frankie is a bit of an jerky guy but he means well and just wants to see his brother get laid. He encourages Lily to hook him up with her "pussycat" roommate, a hard-drinkin' biker chic named Sherry played rather one dimensionally by rocker Joan Jett (LIGHT OF DAY). The date is a disaster that begins with a break neck bike ride through the streets of NYC, devolves into Michael being choked out by biker and ends with him handcuffed to a bed with the promise of sex and nearly puked on, sans sex. Sherry passes out leaving Michael handcuffed to the bed until Lily comes home. She and Michael go for a walk and strike up a conversation that lasts well into morning. There's definitely a spark between the two and when she tells him that Frankie dumped her the two pursue a romantic relationship of their own. Things get complicated when the Frankie has second thoughts about dumping Lily and the brothers vie for her affections.

Advertised as the romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies the film is somewhat successful. The comedy is guy-centric and irreverent with tons of ball-breaking humor and film references. Simonelli's writing is a occasionally a highlight though his directing not so much. The entire production is pretty rough around the edges. The acting is amateur with the exception of Lorinz who carries the film. Frankie is a one-note joke but I have friends who are equally shallow, so that's not too far fetched. Lorinzo's Michael is given the best lines with well-timed, wise-cracking, self-deprecating humor. Sicuranza as the tough but sensitive Lily was likable but her character just felt exaggerated, then again I've never dated a NYC gal, maybe they are that annoying, whatta I know? Despite these shortcomings the three make for a fun dysfunctional trio and the film's bittersweet romantic triangle was a fun watch, even if a bit formulaic and predictable. Even my wife enjoyed the flick though she was put off by the film's low-budget aesthetic, comparing it to public access programming. It's cheap but it ain't that cheap, just unpolished. The film also features a rockin' soundtrack with a title song performed by JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS

DVD: Synapse Films presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio with a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack with no subtitles. This isn't going to win any awards for cinematography, it's a pretty flat image with no depth but it's watchable. Special features include director and cast commentary, a making of featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes plus a theatrical trailer. Apparently the finished version of the making of doc was lost and what we have here is a rough cut, it's a decent watch with interviews from producer Frumke, director Simonelli, and actor James Lorinz. There's much discussion about an unnamed but well-known rocker/actress and her husband muscling the production for more cash at the zero hour which threatened to nearly derail the project.

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Director Rocco Simonelli and Stars James Lorinz and Barbara Sicuranza
- The Making of THE SWEET LIFE (34:54)
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (13:05)
- Outtakes (7:23)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:29)

VERDICT: THE SWEET LIFE is a bittersweet, guy-centic indie anti-rom-com that managed to elicit a few good chuckles with it's New Yorker ball-breaking humor despite some spotty performances and a formulaic story. The winner here is James Lorinz's line deliveries and comedic timing, without him the film would have suffered greatly. It doesn't have a lot of rewatch value in my opinion, it's a one and done, so you may not want to buy this sight unseen but I have no problem recommending this as a passable date night rental.
2.5 outta 5  

An email to me from THE SWEET LIFE director Rocco Simonelli can be found in the comment section where he addresses the picture qaulity of the film.