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Caper Cabana.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

NOVEMBER 23, 1998:  Of the many genres that have seen new life in the '90s—a decade pretty much devoted to reviving old forms either as pastiche (the swing thing) or parody—none has gotten a workout like the crime caper movie. You can blame it on Quentin Tarantino, and especially on Reservoir Dogs, but he's more the leading symptom than the actual cause. There's something in the union of pop culture irony and blood 'n' guts gunplay that speaks to the mass culture right now.

It's easy to get increasingly cynical about each new variation on the theme—sometimes wisely, sometimes not.

For example, I Went Down (1997, R) is an Irish comedy that gives the Hollywood gangster formula a much-needed loosening up. Paddy Breathnach (and how's that for a shamrock moniker?) wrote and directed this shaggy dog story about a young parolee, Git (Peter McDonald), who gets out of jail only to land crosswise with a local gangster while innocently trying to help a friend. To make up for his transgressions (which include putting out the eye of one of the boss's helpers), he agrees to make a simple money run with another amateur hood, a brash-talking but sensitive lug improbably named Bunny (Brendan Gleeson). The job, of course, ends up being not so simple, and Git and Bunny, of course, find themselves trying to sort out a potentially deadly gangland feud. Nothing particularly surprising happens, but Breathnach's leisurely script lets each character develop complexities that make even the bad guys seem not so bad. Its source materials are pretty evident (in addition to Tarantino, you could cite the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing and every buddy picture ever made). But the film—especially the unlikely friendship between Git and Bunny—is amiable enough on its own terms to make the borrowings forgivable.

Less likable is another new video release, Suicide Kings (1997, R), which is all hip indie attitude where I Went Down is mild Irish charm. The story has a good hook—five rich kids from New Jersey kidnap a legendary crime boss and hold him for ransom. The kids—yuppie children of wealthy parents—think the Don can help them find and free one of their sisters, who's also been kidnapped. The joke is that the kidnappers (who include Jay Mohr and Henry Thomas) only know about the Mafia from movies and TV. Confronted with the real thing—a nicely underheated performance from lizard king Christopher Walken—they're way out of their depth. But so is the movie. Although Walken is even more fun to watch than usual, the rest of the film wanders around, introducing characters for no particular reason and trying too hard to balance hard-edged violence with hit-and-miss humor. Call it a caper too far.

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