Don't let the title of this indie gem fool you, "Small Time" has humor and heart big time.
The first feature film from veteran TV writer Joel Surnow, co-creator of the Fox drama series
With that as a loose starting point, Surnow has gone completely fictional in wonderfully warm ways. Most of the movie unfolds on the one used-car lot in California that I promise you will come to love. It's run by two middle-aged rascals, Al Klein (
It is fitting that "Small Time" opens by giving us a taste of Al and Ash's selling style, although shtick is probably more on point.
Here's the scene: Late night on the deserted lot. Rich kid tries to boost a cool car. Gets caught by Ash. Al is called in to negotiate terms. Then the kicker. It's a great one — I'd tell you, but it would ruin the fun.
That clever and caustic twist, though, sets the tone — and the pace. The film, like "24," speeds along.
The next day barely dawns when Al and Ash must get themselves out of a bind; it's a pattern. Al has managed to get the time of his son's high school graduation wrong. They are coming just as everyone else is leaving. And yet, as they will do countless times during the film, they'll talk their way out of it.
The grudges don't stay buried long because Freddy drops a bomb. With all of his high school graduate surety, he announces he'll forgo college in the fall and instead move in with his dad and better still join Al and Ash on the lot as a used-car salesman. You can imagine how happy this makes Mom, with Moynahan excellent at making peeved interesting rather than irritating, which would have been the stereotypical play.
The bulk of the film is about Freddy's initiation into the used-car sales trade and the bachelor life that Ash, in particular, relishes: poker games with the guys, drinks at a dive bar, cruising for girls ….
For Al it's a second chance at fatherhood, real fatherhood, which at some point begins to require him to make tough and unpopular decisions. The writer-director does a good job of making that journey insightful as well as entertaining.
Surnow is helped by having such a solid cast. Whether you know Meloni from his many standout roles in series TV, including his killer run on HBO's "Oz" and the 12 years he spent on
Norris has a different but no less commanding way of acting. There's a kind of cynicism and swagger that he makes seem so natural. It came in handy for his hard-bitten DEA agent in
Bostick, probably best known as the terrorizing older brother in the
Perhaps the smartest thing about "Small Time" is that it does not try to do too much. It is happy with its little slice of life. And I'm happy to say that slice is a tasty one.
Meanwhile, I can't wait to see what Surnow has in mind for Kiefer Sutherland's next "24" hours.
MPAA rating: R for some sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle Pasadena 7, also available on VOD and