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The Baltimore Sun

Looking for an Echo


Friday December 8, 2000

     Martin Davidson's "Looking for an Echo" offers a warm and sensitive studyof a decent man coping with midlife crisis while also paying tribute to the nostalgic pull of doo-wop music of the '50s and '60s.
     A film unafraid of wearing its heart on its sleeve, "Looking for an Echo" recalls Davidson's and Stephen Verona's 1972 "Lords of Flatbush," which gave career boosts to Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler among others, and his two "Eddie and the Cruiser" movies, about a rock group of the '60s whose charismatic lead singer (Michael Pare) may--or may not--have died in a 1964 New Jersey car accident. All these films are permeated by the potent sound of vintage pop music.
     As it happens, 1964 was also the year in which Bay Ridge's Vinnie and the Dreamers had their hit single, "This I Swear," a heartfelt love song with which 16-year-old Vinnie Pirelli made teen girls swoon. Today, Vinnie (Armand Assante, never better) is a bartender about to turn 50, with two sons, Anthony (Edoardo Ballerini), a promising singer in his own right, and Tommy (David Vadim), a married NYPD cop.
     Widowed for a decade, Vinnie also has a 14-year-old daughter Tina (Christy Romano) hospitalized with leukemia. The prognosis for Tina, however, is promising, and she is to return home shortly. A deeply loving though volatile family man, Vinnie has settled into a groove, happily so, he insists to himself and others. Underneath is a man still grieving for his wife and profoundly embittered by the collapse of his singing career, which left him nearly broke, his group, like so many others of the era, cheated out of royalties.
     But change and challenge, which Vinnie has scrupulously avoided, are coming upon him, whether he likes it or not. He won't admit it, of course, but he's overcome by jealousy over the encouraging progress of Anthony's career and downright upset when Anthony sings "This I Swear" with terrific impact.
     When his pal since sixth grade and a fellow Dreamer, Vic Spidero (Joe Grifasi), who has a small band that plays for weddings and bar mitzvahs, organizes a Vinnie and the Dreamers reunion as part of a surprise 50th birthday party for Vinnie, Pirelli reacts with surprise and pleasure. But the gathering will bring to the surface his long-standing conflicting emotions in regard to the past and its losses personal and professional. (Vinnie and the Dreamers in song are voiced by Kenny and the Planetones.)
     Luckily for Vinnie, Tina has a nurse, Joanne (Diane Venora), so lovely and vibrant--and currently single--that Vinnie cannot help but be stirred by her. They make a striking couple, for Vinnie is still in his prime, though he has been out of the dating game so long he needs Anthony to check out his appearance when he's dressing for his first date with Joanne. (He buys Joanne a white carnation corsage, as if he were taking her to the senior prom rather than out to dinner at one of Bay Ridge's more posh restaurants; Joanne's teenage daughter (Paz de la Huerta) tells him it belongs either in a vase or a time capsule.
     Assante, in a decidedly reflective role, and Venora are thoroughly engaging, with Assante gradually revealing the various facets of a man more complex, more regretful than he, his family and friends realize. The always reliable Grifasi heads the solid supporting cast, in which Ballerini emerges as a most promising young actor. The film's locales have an appealing authentic feel to them, and everything from decor to music contributes to making "Looking for an Echo" an appealing heart-tugger.

Looking for an Echo, 2000. R, for language. A Regent Entertainment release. Director Martin Davidson. Producer Paul Kurta. Executive producer Steve Tisch. Screenplay by Jeffrey Goldenberg & Robert Held and Davidson. Cinematographer Charles Minsky. Editor Jerrold L. Ludwig. Music produced and supervised by Kenny Vance. Costumes Sandy Davidson. Production designer Andrew Bernard. Set decorator Stacey Tanner. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Armand Assante as Vinnie. Diane Venora as Joanne. Joe Grifasi as Vic. Edoardo Ballerini as Anthony.

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