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'Gentleman Bandit'

Jordan Alan's "Gentleman Bandit" is a very good, satisfying B picture with a lot of A virtues. Its lack of star power is actually a plus on the screen but works against it at the box office. Even so, it deserves the status of a theatrical release before moving on to cable, a comfortable fit, and video stores.

Charlie Mattera in effect is playing himself in this film based on his actual experiences. His Nick Vincent is a Brooklynite who seems to have been a natural-born thief. At the same time he's a sensitive, loving man with a generous heart. Even in high school he's presenting his girlfriend with diamond earrings, expecting her to believe that he paid for them with his paper route money. He has hooked up with an equally larcenous but, in this case, craven-hearted pal Manny, who years later sets him up for an armed robbery fall that sends him away for eight years.

Upon his release, he heads for California in search of that high school sweetheart, Maria (Justine Miceli), who had married Manny (Peter Greene), who in turn degenerated into an abusive, hard-drinking, drug-taking husband and a violent cop. When Nick finally tracks Maria down, he learns that she has divorced Manny, gotten a good job and a small but comfortable apartment for herself and her 8-year-old daughter, Ally (Kristina Malota). Maria is not thrilled at seeing Nick again, but she lets him sleep on her couch. Menial jobs for an unskilled ex-con are not for Nick, who swiftly returns to a life of crime, which provides him with the funds to lavish presents, especially upon Ally, which allows him to melt the mother's heart through her daughter. His kindness to Maria and Ally and his all-around good manners do not go unnoticed by Maria's avuncular, widowed landlord, Harry (Ed Lauter), who instantly recognizes that Nick's hollow and vague talk about being a real estate investor is persiflage. He, in fact, sees himself in Nick because he has a criminal past as a cautious thief who never got caught.

At this point, "Gentleman Bandit" revs up as Harry comes out of retirement to team up with Nick for a series of bank robberies during which the older man tries to put a polish on Nick's rough edges, both as a man and as a crook. The lonely Harry, furthermore, loves Maria and Ally like a daughter and granddaughter, and he and Nick are in accord in their determination to provide a better life for mother and daughter.

Poor Maria: She's adored by a pair of good-bad guys and still dealing with an ex-husband who is a bad-bad guy through and through. The strength of the stylish and efficient "Gentleman Bandit" is the reality of these people. At heart they are ordinary and of ordinary intelligence: Harry ought to be smart enough to not risk everything with a loser like Nick but can't resist living through him vicariously.

Mattera proves to be a fine actor with a rough-hewn charm who expresses perfectly the deep-seated conflicts within Nick that reportedly he experienced in his own life. Miceli is totally credible as a woman who is not at all blind in her love for a man in whom good and evil take such outsized proportions. Always a splendid character actor, Lauter has a resonance and presence that are key to bringing the film alive, and Malota is appealing as bright and pretty Ally. Greene reveals Manny to be a virtual psychopath but not without inner conflicts of his own. Ryan O'Neal contributes a sharp cameo as an affable Beverly Hills bank manager who has the misfortune to be the target of Nick's first and last heists.

A good-looking film, with Alan proving to be as adroit a cinematographer as he is a director, "Gentleman Bandit" has as its key strength an avoidance of special pleading; At no time do Alan and Mattera suggest that Nick and Harry's good sides should absolve them of responsibilities for their crimes.

Unrated. Times guidelines: The film has standard bank robbery action and some violence.

'Gentleman Bandit'

Charlie Mattera...Nick Vincent

Ed Lauter...Harry Koslow

Justine Miceli...Maria DeRazio

Peter Greene...Manny Breen

Kristina Malota...Ally Breen

Ryan O'Neal...Bank Manager

A Pathfinder Pictures release. Director-cinematographer Jordan Alan. Producers Douglas Hunter, Fred Joyal, Meta A. Puttkammer. Screenplay by Charlie Mattera and Mark Petracca. Music Larry Groupe. Production designer Naython Vane. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

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