Prodigal Janitor Mired in Quagmire in Offbeat Neo-Noir/Screwball Sitcom
This indie flick isn’t half-bad, for a taut, neo-noir thriller that inexplicably transforms into a screwball comedy somewhere around its midway point. What salvages the production, which at times also isn’t half-good, is the fact that it was blessed by such a talented cast capable of convincingly executing the zany screenplay with perfect aplomb.
Let’s face it, when you’re spotted a trio of Oscar-nominees for the lead roles right off the bat, namely, Thomas Haden Church (for Sideways), Melissa Leo (for Frozen River) and Elisabeth Shue (for Leaving Las Vegas), plus have a couple of veteran character actors like Keith David and M. Emmet Walsh at your disposal as well, it’s reasonable for your audience to expect to witness something special. And this is just the good fortune visited upon Jake Goldberger who makes both his scriptwriting and directorial debut here with Don McKay.
Church plays the title character, a jaded janitor who’s been working at the same job in Boston for the past quarter century. Seems that he never got over having his heart broken by his high school sweetheart, Sonny Ross (Shue). After being dumped, he left their tiny hometown in Western Massachusetts forever, and pined away for her from afar for years in Beantown.
Meanwhile, she never answered any of his many letters, at least not until she developed terminal cancer and needed a shoulder to lean on. That’s the intriguing point of departure of this slowly-revealed whodunit which is secretly laden with an abundance of shocking twists lying in wait.
As the action unwinds, we find Don hurriedly returning to rustic Mount Raven by bus in response to Sonny’s urgent appeal for assistance. Upon his arrival at her place, he’s met at the door by her steely, live-in nurse, Marie (Leo) who warns of his ex’s weakened condition. Later, Sonny’s doting doctor, Lance Pryce (James Rebhorn), fills Don in further about his patient’s dire prognosis.
Despite the illness and the intervening years, the former lovebirds manage to rekindle the flames. Sonny apologizes for the way it all ended, and would now like to make amends by tying the knot on her deathbed. Of course, all is not as it appears, and the plot thickens when Doc Pryce exhibits a jealous streak in response to their resurrected romance.
It’s difficult to say what transpires at this juncture of the picture. Either the wheels entirely come off what had been a carefully wound psychological drama, or the enterprise merely morphs into a madcap sitcom, depending on ones tolerance for abrupt shifts in tone. Regardless, I dare not deconstruct the film any further, since that would involve spoiling some critical developments.
Suffice to say, Don McKay does remain an entertaining enough diversion, though in this critic’s opinion it veers sharply from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and violence.
Running time: 87 minutes
Distributor: Image Entertainment
To see a trailer for Don McKay, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H17hZGu9MWs