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Thursday, August 19, 2010

$5 A DAY -- DVD review by porfle

If you like road pictures, and, more specifically, road pictures about disillusioned sons getting back together with their estranged, irresponsible fathers, then $5 A DAY should be right up your street.  It doesn't hurt if you're a Christopher Walken fan or think seeing a MILFish Sharon Stone in a bikini sounds like a nice idea. 

Flynn Parker (Alessandro Nivola, FACE/OFF, JURASSIC PARK III) just lost his job as a health inspector because his boss found out about his stretch in prison for a crime that was actually committed by his father, Nat (Christopher Walken), an inveterate hustler and con man.  Flynn also just lost his girlfriend Maggie (Amanda Peet), who's tired of all the lies he's told her because he's ashamed of his past.  So it's not exactly a good time for Nat to contact him out of the blue, tell him he's dying, and implore his estranged son to drive him to New Mexico for some mysterious experimental treatment.

That's right, it's "road trip" time.  But even though we know pretty much how everything's going to turn out, the fun here is in the details.  First, you've got Christopher Walken in low-key, laidback funny mode, and even though he seems at first to be sleepwalking through the role (and always looking like he just woke up from the same coma he was in back in THE DEAD ZONE) he gradually warms up to it very nicely.

Walken looks downright scary at first, and it takes awhile for us to stop worrying that he's going to turn into a giant, bug-eyed insect creature and start sucking people's brains out of their skulls, or at least whip out a tommy gun and blast away at his co-stars.  His character's really basically a nice guy--he just happens to look like Christopher Walken, who could drive people out of a spook house just by standing there. 

The thing that makes Nat so interesting is that he's such a complete moocher who prides himself on never paying for anything.  He sleeps in houses that are for sale, tells waitresses at IHOP that it's his birthday so he'll get his meals on the house (he has a fake ID for every day of the year), and absorbs vast amounts of free promotional offers like a sponge. 

As Flynn, Alessandro Nivola gives a naturalistic performance and is a good foil for Walken.  Flynn's reticence to travel cross-country with Nat is compounded when he discovers they'll be driving a Sweet'N Low ad van and hitting all the Chevron stations so they can gas up on the company's dime.  Their trip is comprised of three phases--the "hostility phase" in which Flynn wallows in his deep-seated resentment against Nat, the "gradual acceptance" phase where Flynn learns the truth about certain past misconceptions and realizes that Nat may not be so bad after all, and the third phase which I won't talk about even though you can pretty much figure it out for yourself. 

Fortunately, none of this is anywhere near as cute and sappy as it could've been.  Most of it's pretty funny, especially when Nat pretends to be a sales rep so he can gorge himself at the company banquet and dance with the wife of the Salesman of the Year (Dean Cain), which almost gets him beaten up until Flynn rescues him.  Whether it's ordering room service from the lobby of a hotel or spending a free weekend in a retirement condo, all of his constant hustling schemes and the casual hubris he displays in executing them are entertaining. 

All of which causes Flynn to continually ask himself--is Nat really dying, or is it just another scam?  What's really up his sleeve?  Old family issues emerge, such as why Flynn's mother really left them when he was a kid, and a few big surprises are revealed when they visit Nat's old nemesis Burt Kruger (Peter Coyote), who played a role in breaking up their family.  More is revealed to Flynn when they spend a night with his old babysitter Delores (Sharon Stone) and she sets him straight on a few things while putting the moves on Nat.  Stone, sporting a cartoonish tan and a pair of knockers that seem to have come from out of nowhere, makes the most of her small role as a brassy babe who knows her way around a hustle herself.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 surround sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include cast and director interviews, a still gallery, and a trailer.

While the term "relationship movie" usually causes me to duck and cover, $5 A DAY is deftly handled and easy to take, and never once veers into mawkishness or silly farce.  With Walken on hand to carry the film in his own inimitable style, it's a road trip well worth taking. 

Buy it at

Porfle Admits: "I Was Christopher Walken's Personal Chef"

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