King of the Corner

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Leo Spivak has a combination of problems that is supposed to make him sound like Everyman but that really makes him sound like EveryMovieCharacter. His teenage daughter is growing up too fast, his aged father is crankily awaiting death, he hates his job, and a younger co-worker is trying to replace him. He’s married to Isabella Rossellini, though, so I don’t know what he’s complaining about.

“King of the Corner” benefits most from its performances. Not its plot, which is typical mid-life-crisis-comedy stuff, nor its characters, who are not especially intriguing, but its performances. In the lead (and also the writer and director) is Peter Riegert, one of those New Yorkish actors you recognize without knowing his name. He’s been a defense lawyer on “Law & Order” several times, and has a recurring role as a crooked assemblyman on “The Sopranos.” This is his first lead role, as well as his feature-directorial debut, and he shows an earnest affection for what he’s doing, an actor’s working knowledge of script and story.

Leo works in marketing for a New York firm, conducting focus groups for his clients’ new products. These include the home security device that alters your voice when you talk on the phone so that you sound like Gregory Peck. Even not being a single woman who’s afraid of being home alone, I would buy that. Leo is good at what he does, and he’s happy to mentor young Ed Shiffman (Jake Hoffman, son of Dustin) as he climbs the corporate ladder, unaware that Ed is willing to steal Leo’s ideas if it will help him climb.

Every other weekend, Leo flies to Arizona, where his cranky Jewish father Sol (Eli Wallach) has migrated to run out the clock in a retirement home. Sol has already bought a burial package from a local mortuary in anticipation of his demise. Leo doesn’t want to talk about the sort of thing. Dad’s never been very affectionate to Leo, but his friends at the retirement home say when Leo’s not around, Sol never stops bragging about him.

OK, so there’s the situation. Now where is it going? While in Philadelphia on business, Leo runs into Betsy (Beverly D’Angelo), a girl from high school some 30 years ago. He had a big crush on her back then, and obviously still does, while she hardly remembers him. They sleep together. This leads to a very funny/uncomfortable scene with Leo showing up at Betsy’s house and confronting her husband. It’s funny, but why is it happening? Why is Leo behaving this way?

I think what Reigert’s going for, and achieving with only slight success, is some insight into the mind of a bored, middle-aged man, that sort of “what do I do now?” phase that many people go through. And while “King of the Corner” is amusing, and eventually reaches some clarity about Leo’s psyche and his relationship with his father, it is not the sort of transcendent human comedy that it wants to be. It is, instead, a middling one, certainly watchable but by no means special.

B- (1 hr., 33 min.; R, scattered profanity, some sexual dialogue.)

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