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Double Indignity

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Wren Maloney

Table Talk: Lara Flynn Boyle, Peter Dobson (left) and Danny Nucci think up some creative new ways to eliminate an unsuspecting husband in Marcus De Leon's "The Big Squeeze."

Low-brow 'Big Squeeze' is a pale spoof of classic film noir plots

By Rob Nelson

HOLLYWOOD PRODUCT continues to suffer budgetary bloat, resulting in fewer films taking up more screens. The same is nearly true in the "indie" world, now practically monopolized by a handful of mini-major distributors.

A quick trip through any chain video store will turn up hundreds of obscure titles, many of them easily marketable T&A thrillers. In the early '80s, movies like this might have enjoyed one-week runs.

But the marketplace is so impenetrable these days that even films in dramatic competition at the most recent Sundance Film Festival have been relegated to "premiere" stints on pay cable. The B-movie may be alive and well, but the good old days of discovering one in a theater are pretty much over.

Which leads us to The Big Squeeze, a low-brow film noir spoof that could easily have ended up on HBO but somehow managed to infiltrate the art-house circuit. Even when a B is as mediocre as this, it's a relief to find one taking the place of a fashionable indie or a wannabe blockbuster.

At its best, The Big Squeeze is knowingly disreputable, injecting a pair of gratuitous sex scenes into the standard noir plot about the bored wife who hires a drifter to get her husband's money. Not that it needed to be, but this time-worn narrative was reportedly modeled after John Steinbeck's Tortilla Flats, of all things--probably in an attempt to give the film some hint of authenticity.

Indeed, at a time when most crime movies still owe to the Tarantino model, it seems uniquely gracious of the filmmakers that there isn't a single gunshot here. That said, The Big Squeeze is awfully familiar.

Per film noir, the wife (Lara Flynn Boyle) is introduced with a slow pan up her bare leg--ostensibly the point-of-view shot of her leering husband (Luca Bercovici), but it's really the formulaic vision of writer-director Marcus De Leon.

The husband, Henry, is a dumb, churchgoing, abusive former baseball player forced to quit the game after breaking his knee. So Tanya has been slaving as a bartender for tip money to give to Henry, who in turn donates it to a nearby Spanish mission in the hopes that God will heal him enough to play third base again.

As it turns out, Henry is keeping the news of his recent $130,000 insurance settlement from his wife; when Tanya gets wise, she persuades the drifter, Benny (Peter Dobson), to hustle it away in exchange for half the proceeds--and, he thinks, all of her.

The Big Squeeze takes place in what the press kit describes as "the colorful Hispanic neighborhood of Highland Park" in L.A. Therefore, Boyle's character has been given a stereotypically motormouthed Latina sidekick (Teresa Dispina), who mostly chatters on about her beloved mamacita. There's also Jesse (Danny Nucci), a kindly Chicano gardener/artist who paints what he plants, and who falls into bed with the wife.

The latter relationship inspires the film's two sex scenes--one so overlong that it's an embarrassment to watch, the other involving the lovers' creative use of a lime and the Iguanas' rather uncreative cover of "Crimson and Clover."

With the men outnumbering the women 3 to 2, De Leon's script gets plenty of mileage out of the line, "So, did you sleep with her?" Whether these are jokes about male sexual paranoia is hard to say, so sketchy is the film's tone. In its first half, The Big Squeeze tries to evoke a sweaty, neon-drenched bar culture populated with glistening, duplicitous beauties of both sexes; in the second, it wants to be a wacky, sunlit comedy.

But the actors don't survive the transition. No doubt Boyle was cast for being a veteran of the transcendent B-noir Red Rock West, although her sultry line readings soon begin to grate. Even more uncharismatic are the three male leads, who strain for laughs with minimal success.

This movie would kill to earn the distinction of screwball noir--a subgenre captured so well in the '50s by the likes of His Kind of Woman and Beat the Devil. But The Big Squeeze fails both as parody of noir and the thing itself--a double indignity. Nevertheless, it's perhaps some measure of victory that this movie managed to squeeze into a spot on the big screen.


The Big Squeeze (Rated R; 97 min.), directed and written by Marcus De Leon, photographed by Jacques Haitkin and starring Lara Flynn Boyle, Peter Dobson and Luca Bercovici.

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From the September 5-11, 1996 issue of Metro

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