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Big Hearts, Small Scores

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A Walk on the Mild Side: Vincent Gallo (left), Adam Trese and
William Forsythe bungle a pair of heists in "Palookaville."

Three genial crooks can't sustain a crime wavelet in Alan Taylor's melancholy 'Palookaville'

By Richard von Busack

NEOPHYTE director Alan Taylor's Palookaville gets its name from Joe Palooka, a goodhearted but half-bright boxer in the comic strips of the 1920s (whose adventures were made into movies starring that Palooka of the world of comedy, Shemp Howard, as Joe's manager, Knobby Walsh). Palookavilles everywhere are so named as a tribute to gentle losers. The Palooka-ville of the title is a small New Jersey town afflicted by three little criminals (Vincent Gallo, Adam Trese and William Forsythe) who are consistently sidetracked in their search for a big score. They first botch a jewelry-store burglary, and then an armored-car heist; both ventures are sabotaged by the fact that Gallo's Russ has the hostile and ever-vigilant eye of his brother-in-law, the town's square-headed constable (Garth Williams), on him. Frances McDormand shows up in a cameo as a motherly local prostitute.

Writer David Epstein and director Alan Taylor used as their source material a few early short stories about WWII by Italian fabulist Italo Calvino. The tale "Theft in a Pastry Shop" comes through with the least distortion during the picture's rich opening and sets the confectionary mood to come. Taylor gives the movie a surface that could be any time between the 1940s and the late 1970s; oddly, the movie feels more timeless than anachronistic, and it is too sweetly melancholy to be seen as just a pastiche of Capra-corn.

Palookaville (R; 92 min.), directed by Alan Taylor, written by David Epstein, based on stories by Italo Calvino, photographed by John Thomas and starring William Forsythe, Vincent Gallo and Adam Trese.

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From the October 24-30, 1996 issue of Metro

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