“Meet America’s least dangerous criminals”, says the tagline, and rightly so, about this brilliant offbeat comedy where three friends Jerry, Sid and Russ try to rob a jewelry shop in the middle of a night and end up drilling holes into a bakery. Oh, it’s a robbery gone truly wrong! But you don’t get the real picture when they break into the wrong shop. You get the real picture when Jerry ducks under a table, hiding from the cops, and starts to chomp on the donuts he has just sneaked from the tray. He even remembers to save a few of them for his family back home.
Palookaville thrives on characters, weird as they seem yet so real. The low-keyed humor gels well with the light plot. Amidst all that fun, how do you figure out the plight of the main characters? Is it when you watch Sid wake up alone to the breath of his bony, scrawny pet dogs? Is it when you see Russ ignore his family, head straight into his room, shut the door, turn the lights out, and watch his neighbor girl go secretly crazy for him? Yeah, nothing goes right for them. Even in Russ’s house as part of the research of their next major operation, when they try to watch a movie on armored-truck robbery, Russ’s family sits along with them to watch it because the movie seems to be interesting. Are they destined to be losers forever? Are they already living in the paradise – the losers’ paradise?
The subtly funny attempt with a depressing setup in the end proves to be just right. Sometimes, some movies make you think if this is enough to make you laugh. Why would filmmakers go for mind boggling plots and deliberately funny characters and outrageous situations to deliver a funny film? Why couldn’t they just create understated characters that befit a naturally funny plot, turn the camera on, and let them go? Palookaville achieves the latter in such elegance and a cult fashion.
Vincent Gallo, playing Russ, with his razor sharp face and restless demeanor, has pulled off an engagingly stylish performance that one would not just laugh about but feel for too in the end. Has he really got it in him to have that instinct to go for the kill? Or does anyone in the movie have it at all?
There are movies with great characters. Palookaville, as a movie, has a great character and that’s what makes it stand apart from its equals.