Friday October 2, 1998
"Somewhere in the City" has such an endearing sensibility, good-humored and surprisingly tender, and such a wonderfully improbable cast, that it's tempting to forgive its strained, synthetic stretches and its tendency to meander. It's one of those lots-of-talk, little-action New York indie ventures best left to those who consider it enough that Sandra Bernhard, Italy's lovely Ornella Muti and French icon Bulle Ogier should somehow pop up in the same film--plus a walk-on by a glamorous Karen Black.
On the plus side, these actresses all shine, as does the entire large cast, and there's a vibrant John Cale score, plus numbers from some hot new bands. Working very--very--loosely from Gorky's "Lower Depths," debuting director and co-writer Ramin Niami introduces us to a clutch of desperate characters who live in an old tenement. Bernhard is a man-hungry, neurotic psychiatrist, and Muti is the miserable wife of the building's crude super.
Her lover (Robert John Burke, a Hal Hartley stalwart) is an inept robber whose gang includes the charmingly flashy Ogier. Other residents are a Chinese beauty (Bai Ling), who's prepared to marry just about anybody to get a green card, and a rich kid (Paul Anthony Stewart) desperately trying to be a revolutionary. The best drawn of the residents is a gifted Shakespearean actor (Peter Stormare), frustrated both as an artist and as a gay man. (He's hoping that a featured part in a film version of "I Dream of Jeannie," starring Madonna, will rescue him from TV commercials.)
A lot that happens is funny and sometimes also touching, but Niami's attempts at screwball comedy, which requires absolute precision combined with the illusion of spontaneity, tend to be less than inspired, and his pacing is unsteady, to say the least. To his credit, he and co-writer Patrick Dillon do come up with satisfying and funny finishes for all their people, including a sequence featuring former New York Mayor Ed Koch, deftly playing himself.
"Somewhere in the City," which has invitingly seedy production design from Lisa Albin, is surely somewhat less than satisfying, but Niami leaves a distinctive enough impression to leave you intrigued by whatever he may do next.
Somewhere in the City, 1998. Unrated. An Artistic License Films release of a Sideshow production. Director Ramin Niami. Producers Niami and Karen Robson. Executive producers Paula Brancato and Das Werk. Screenplay by Niami and Patrick Dillon. Cinematographer Igor Sunara. Editors Niami and Elizabeth Gazzara. Costumes S. Batim Balaman. Music John Cale. Production designer Lisa Albin. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Sandra Bernhard as Betty. Robert John Burke as Frankie. Bai Ling as Lu Lu. Ornella Muti as Marta. Paul Anthony Stewart as Che. Peter Stormare as Graham. Bulle Ogier as Brigitte.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun