Eric D. Snider

Double Whammy

The problem with a film's writer and director being the same person is that if the script is full of holes, the director can't point them out. Also, if the direction is bland and unoriginal, the writer can't object to his screenplay being mistreated. Writer/directors need good assistants.

Tom DiCillo, who is responsible for "Double Whammy," apparently went without the assistant. The mild-mannered (except for when it's strangely violent) comedy scores some scattershot laughs, but mostly comes up short.

The premise is promising. Depressed New York police detective Ray Pluto (Denis Leary) suffers a back spasm during a restaurant shooting and can't stop the assailant. He drops his gun, though, and a nearby 8-year-old boy picks it up and shoots the killer. Now the little boy is a hero, and Ray is a laughing-stock.

His boss, Generic Movie Hard-Nosed Police Lieutenant (Victor Argo) puts Ray on medical leave until his back is better. His partner and friend Jerry (a characteristically weird Steve Buscemi) recommends a chiropractor, who turns out to be the very beautiful Dr. Ann Beamer (Elizabeth Hurley). Dr. Ann wears some awfully low-cut blouses for someone who spends all day leaning over people, but we'll blame the costume designer for that, not DiCillo.

There is some brief talk of Ray's back problems being psychosomatic -- his wife and daughter were killed in a hit-and-run a few years ago, and Ray blames himself -- but it doesn't go anywhere. Ray and Ann develop a relationship based on nothing, and Hurley goes woefully underused; her character adds little.

Meanwhile, Ray's building superintendent Juan (Luis Guzman) is at odds with his rebellious teen daughter Maribel (Melonie Diaz), who wants a tattoo in order to fit in with her friends. Angry at her father for being so strict, Maribel -- I swear I am not making this up -- steals his money and hires two goons to kill him.

Also, there are two would-be screenwriters named Cletis (Donald Faison) and Duke (Keith Nobbs) who have a wacky-silly friendship and are trying to hammer out an action-flick. Their efforts tie in later, sort of.

I said before that the premise is promising. Unfortunately, DiCillo wastes it with some very basic errors. The basis of everyone's ridicule of Ray is that he proved worthless during the shooting spree. It is utterly unrealistic, though, to suggest that Ray's back spasm went unreported by most of the news media. Newspapers love to say WHY things happened; no way would one report that a cop was present and didn't act without also investigating why, and surely Ray would make no secret of his medical condition, as it would make him look less like a coward and more like a victim of circumstance.

There's also the matter of one of the hired assassins wearing Juan's distinctive "Papi" gold necklace after the murder attempt. No criminal would be stupid enough to flaunt a unique piece of jewelry worn by his victim -- unless it were necessary in order for it to be a plot device later on.

Let's not even talk about Maribel hiring two guys to kill her dad. Please. Let's just pretend it didn't happen and move on with our lives.

"Double Whammy" is pedestrian and contrived. The few laughs it contains (I liked Cletis and Duke's rejected movie title: "Suck the Monkey") don't make up for the forced plot twists and superficial characterizations.

Grade: C-

Rated R, abundant harsh profanity, some strong nudity, some sexuality, strong violence

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