PEOPLE I KNOWdirected by Daniel Algrant, written by Jon Robin Baitz, produced by Michael Nozik, Karen Tenkhoff and Leslie Urdang, with Al Pacino, Téa Leoni, Ryan O'Neal and Kim Basinger. 100 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (May 9). For venues and times, see film times. Rating: NN
Al Pacino's career is starting to look as inexplicably odd as crop circles or the continuing popularity of ABBA. There's no question about his talent as an actor or his movie star ability to stamp his personality on a project, but sometimes I suspect he's as motivated by fear of boredom as by artistic or commercial ambition. Perhaps he believes that unless he keeps working, regardless of the quality of the project, he'll die.
In People I Know, a low-budget indie, he plays Eli Wurman, a Southern-born New York publicist on his last legs in an industry that's forgotten him. He's trying to effect a comeback with a benefit for some African refugees who are being deported when his last full-time client, movie star Cary Launer (Ryan O'Neal), shows up to ask him to bail his TV starlet girlfriend (Téa Leoni) out of jail.
People I Know is about a man running on dead batteries, will and chemical assistance. It's linked into a murder mystery about Manhattan's rich and powerful trying to stifle a story about power and corruption. OK, the scandal features really rich guys hanging out in an upscale opium den. It's not exactly Prince Of The City.
Pacino seems to have forgotten that he's already made a couple of Sidney Lumet pictures, and rather good ones, in Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. Pacino must have had a week free and wanted to indulge the Southern accent lurking around the edges of his performances in Heat and Any Given Sunday.
The film indulges him, but, then, most directors indulge Pacino. It's usually fun, and it's reasonably fun here. He gets to play exhausted, stoned, wired and angry, and he almost never does that "Now I'm whispering, now I'm shouting for absolutely no reason" thing that suggests he's losing his hearing.
The picture as a whole, though, is not terribly enjoyable. Director Dan Algrant made a movie about 10 years ago called Naked In New York that laboured under the burden of star Eric Stoltz, and he has directed some Sex And The City episodes. People I Know is mainly shot hand-held late at night and, aside from the cast, looks like it cost a dollar. Algrant likes to dole out manner without meaning.
If anyone wants to catch a great movie about a publicist's troubles, Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell Of Success, with Tony Curtis's Sidney Falco and James Wong Howe's glittering black-and-white cinematography, is making an appearance at the Revue this week. Now that's a great picture.