'Illtown'

In 1991, writer-director Nick Gomez made a terrific debut with "Laws of Gravity," an ultra-realistic tale of three blue-collar Brooklyn thieves. He followed it up in 1995 with the less effective but worthy "New Jersey Drive," about some Newark young people becoming caught up in crime. Gomez's impulse to try something different is understandable, but "Illtown" misfires badly.
     Gomez tries to tell the entire film as a memory, expressed as a drug-induced vision, related by his key character, who has just shot up. Unfortunately, "Illtown" seems merely silly and preposterous, not to mention incoherent.
     Perversely, Gomez's previously gritty style is again what is called for in depicting a devoted couple (Michael Rapaport and Lili Taylor), seasoned Miami drug dealers eager to start a family but whose operation is becoming disastrously unstuck. (Taylor allows she would like to bring a child into the world who wouldn't grow up to kill another child; Rapaport's idea of heaven is a golf course.)
     Very swiftly you stop caring who's wasting whom, or why, as enemies start popping out of the woodwork and the bodies pile up beyond count. Soon packs of deadly adolescent males start swarming over the landscape.
     Gomez's deliberately hallucinatory style works against generating any concern for the drug-dealing couple, as much as they seem to care for each other. That's too bad because Rapaport, so often the wacky guy, is very good in a serious portrayal, and Taylor has her usual strong presence.
     Others include Kevin Corrigan as the couple's pal, Adam Trese as a key nemesis, Tony Danza as a veteran criminal kingpin and Isaac Hayes as a mysterious type who pops up from time to time. (Production notes helpfully tell us that he's Rapaport's "police contact-spiritual advisor.")      As resoundingly disappointing as "Illtown" is, it is nonetheless clearly the work of a talented filmmaker who in this instance has miscalculated disastrously.


Illtown, 1998. R, for pervasive strong drug use, violence and language, and for brief nudity. A Shooting Gallery presentation. Writer-director Nick Gomez. Producer David L. Bushell. Executive producer Larry Meistrich & Donald C. Carter. Cinematographer Jim Denault. Editor Tracy Granger. Music Brian Keane. Production designer Susan Bolles. Set decorator Paul Weathered. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Michael Rapaport as Dante. Lili Taylor as Micky. Adam Trese as Gabriel. Kevin Corrigan as Francis (Cisco).

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