The Big Squeeze

on September 06, 1996 by Carole Glines
   The charming romantic black comedy "The Big Squeeze" represents the best independent filmmaking can offer. Writer/director Marcus De Leon eschews the pretentious artiness that plagues so many low-budget efforts; instead, he lets his skill with actors and dialogue and obvious love of his Los Angeles locations do the talking. It all adds up to a fresh and frisky romp.
   Lara Flynn Boyle of "Twin Peaks" stars as Tanya, an impoverished barmaid who discovers her disabled husband Henry (Luca Bercovici), a former baseball player, has $130,000 in the bank--which he refuses to share with her. Tanya devises a plot with a slick gambler, Benny (Peter Dobson), to get her share from the ultra-religious Henry, who spends his days praying at the local L.A. mission. Meanwhile, the mission's gardener Jesse (Danny Nucci) becomes involved in their plan out of his love for Tanya. Although the plot sounds like a complicated caper on paper, De Leon is so sure of his material that it's all delightful onscreen. The UCLA film school graduate (and director of "Kiss Me Killer") has fashioned a wry screenplay that gives clever lines to the characters without lapsing into the Quentin Tarantino- or Coen Brothers-like hipness currently popular. When Tanya observes about her husband, "Whatever he was, he was," it sums everything up. You truly care about these characters because De Leon gives them such interesting things to say. Boyle, who has seemed so brittle in her previous bigscreen efforts, suddenly blossoms into a warm and sexy ctress under De Leon's direction. Even better are the three actors--smarmy Dobson ("Last Exit to Brooklyn"), lovable Nucci and fanatical Bercovici. Their amusing "love quadrangle" with Boyle lets De Leon present his amazingly beautiful and tender regard for women. In De Leon's hands, an L.A. bar isn't a sleazy pickup joint but a dewy, romantic place where men may pay tribute to ladies. he writer/director grew up in L.A.'s Highland Park area, where the movie was shot, and he takes full advantage of the locations. Angelenos and others will easily recognize such sites as Union Station and the San Fernando Mission, but for De Leon they aren't mere backdrops. He loves his colorful, sun-drenched Latino neighborhood--and so will you.    Starring Lara Flynn Boyle, Peter Dobson, Danny Nucci and Luca Bercovici. Directed and written by Marcus De Leon. Produced by Zane W. Levitt, Mark Yellen and Liz McDermott. A First Look release. Comedy. Rated R for sexuality and some language. Running time: 96 min.
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