Being the fan of musicals that I am (and yes, I’m straight), whenever I review movies, one line from Damn Yankees always runs through my head: “You’ve gotta have heart! All you really need is heart!” Unfortunately, too many of today’s films are utterly lacking in heart. From medieval epics with hearts of stone (Robin Hood) to cold examinations of unlikeable people (Up in the Air), an increasing number of our movies are now focusing on stylistics rather than people.
A welcome exception is Robert Davi’s debut directorial effort, The Dukes (available at Amazon). Davi’s film is like a good Italian meal: light, tangy, flavorful. It’s also wonderfully directed. It’s a low-budget film that doesn’t make you think low-budget, which is a welcome relief – it demonstrates true talent in a director when he tells the story instead of making you think, “Wonder how much he spent on that shot?”
The plot centers on Davi’s character, Danny, the leader of a one-hit wonder doo-wop group, the Dukes. Danny is divorced and trying to find the money to pay for his kid’s braces without having to sink to allowing his ex-wife to ask her new boyfriend for help. His cousin, George, played beautifully by Chazz Palminteri, is another member of the band with a penchant for plus-sized women. Three friends round out the social circle: Lou (well-cast Peter Bogdanovich), their incompetent agent; Murph (a hilarious Elya Baskin), an electrician with an unfortunate proclivity for hallucinogenic drugs; and Armond (Frank D’Amico), a gentle giant with diabetes and lapsing health insurance. Put them together, and you’ve got a group of desperate past-their-prime men all in need of some cash.
And what better way to find cash than to rob a dentist’s office of its gold-filling supply?
The story doesn’t go where you’d expect, and it’s a pleasure to accompany the characters along the way. You can tell that the laughter in the movie is genuine – the actors obviously enjoy one another’s company – and so are the performances. Plus, Robert Davi can sing! Who knew? Rumor has it that Davi will be putting out a CD soon, and after you hear him singing in The Dukes, you’ll understand why.
The Dukes leaves you with a warm feeling, which is something truly underrated these days. Not all endings have to be sad, people can find redemption, and sometimes, just sometimes, things do go right. And it’s just as important for us to be reminded of the good in life as it is to be reminded of life’s ugly underbelly.