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[whitespace] Monument Ave.
Sticks in the 'Hood: Colm Meaney (left) and Denis Leary patrol 'Monument Ave.'

Irish gangsters stroll down 'Monument Ave.'

By Richard von Busack

ON THE SLOPES of the Bunker Hill monument in Boston is a one-square-mile community called Charlestown, a waterfront neighborhood ruled by organized Irish criminals. The area's being gentrified, but in Ted Demme's drama Monument Ave. a team of Irish goodfellas practice the old ways: stealing cars, beating up outsiders and partying hard.

A series of open-ended scenes introduces us to Seamus (Jason Barry), an Irish cousin imported to help out with the thievery; Mouse (Ian Hart) and Bobby (Denis Leary) form the rest of the gang. All three work for the brains of the organization, Jackie O'Hara (Colm Meaney).

Unfortunately, Jackie's hard-drinking girl, Katy (Famke Janssen), is sleeping with Bobby, and an old friend is returning from prison unexpectedly early, which gives him the reputation of a squealer. The newly released Teddy (Billy Crudup) is on Jackie O.'s bad side, especially since he seems to have led the police to Jackie O's stolen-car ring. Teddy gets iced; nobody saw a thing; and Bobby is torn between the Irish version of omerta, the code of silence, his fear of Jackie and his desire for revenge.

Demme is trying for a copy of the elements that made Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets a classic. Monument Ave. is set in a tiny, changing neighborhood full of clueless ethnic petty criminals who don't seem to realize that the ground is vanishing underneath their feet. The partying scenes are full of aimless drinking and coke-sniffing, carried out with perhaps improvised yakking--the characters chop up lines and make lists of movie stars in the order the guys would like to screw them, that sort of conversation.

Freeze frames and a series of snapshots from the shared childhood of the characters give Monument Ave. the ambiance of a '70s movies, as does Adam Kimmel's grainy photography. (This is a movie about people whose lives haven't changed in years, but the time period is uncertain--is the action supposed to be set 15 or 20 years ago? The clothing, hairstyles and enormous amounts of coke ingested suggest a '70s time frame, although these elements may be meant to show how backward the characters are.)

You can't turn back the clock, however, and Demme's not about to allow himself a Scorsesean contact high off of the crimes or the drugs. Look at these men wasting their lives, he informs us during the party scenes. They're acting like little boys! Annie (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a girl from outside the Charlestown milieu, is picked up by Bobby at a bar. In a few minutes, she gives Bobby a vision of the world beyond the neighborhood.

Again Demme ends the possibility fast, without the lingering regrets of the Harvey Keitel/Amy Robinson romance in Mean Streets. Katy runs Annie off, attacking her, and Annie becomes the director's surrogate: "This is like high school!" she tells Bobby as she walks away forever. Demme doesn't have the subtlety of Scorsese any more than he has Scorsese's love of action or decadence.

Admittedly, Leary is unselfconscious and nicely opaque as Bobby, and Demme stages the violence authentically: the killings happen so fast you can't believe they've occurred. Otherwise, the only new qualities are the locations: a dark sloping street underneath the gargantuan monument blazing with light, an obelisk far too big for the small park it sits in; a dockside fenced off by elevated traffic on a high bridge seemingly miles away. Monument Ave. is an example of the difference between "scenic" and "atmospheric."


Monument Ave. (Unrated; 97 min.), directed by Ted Demme, written by Mike Armstrong, photographed by Adam Kimmel and starring Denis Leary, Colm Meaney and Jason Barry.

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From the October 8-14, 1998 issue of Metro.

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