With Friends Like These

on March 12, 1999 by Ray Greene
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"With Friends Like These" took the audience award at Santa Barbara '98, and it's easy to see why. An accomplished farce populated by sly and knowing comedic performances, "WFLT" unites a novel premise with a near-perfect ensemble cast to create an enjoyable comedy of show business manners reminiscent of (and measurably superior to) the surprise hit "Get Shorty" of a few years back.

Johnny DeMartino (Robert Costanzo) is a Hollywood character actor specializing in short, fat mafia goombah types. Johnny leads a comfortable life as part of Hollywood's hard working second tier of day players. He works constantly, but never gets to really strut his stuff. All of that seems about to change when a bulimic casting director (Beverly D'Angelo in a wickedly funny cameo) asks him to audition for the role of a lifetime: the opportunity to work with Martin Scorsese (who has a cameo as himself) in an epic biography of Al Capone.

As part of the audition arrangement, Johnny is sworn to secrecy because Scorsese wants to avoid being inundated by requests for readings from all over town. All too soon, Johnny's equally hungry character acting buddies find out what he's up to: Steve (Adam Arkin of TV's "Chicago Hope"), a neurotic failure living off his wife; compulsive womanizer Dorian (Jon Tenney of TV's "Brooklyn South"); and Armand (John Sayles regular David Straithairn), a tortured artist with a questionable past who others take as a living example of the dangerous type. Friendship is friendship, but this is the part of a lifetime, and L.A. actors are desperate men...

Perhaps the reason "With Friends Like These" works so well is that the actors in its cast are all playing a predicament they can relate to. As an extended and richly detailed industry prank, "With Friends Like These" may be a bit too "inside" for some audiences. But the great thing about a well-crafted indie project created on the cheap is that it really doesn't have to speak to everybody to turn a profit. Handled correctly and screened in the proper moviehouses, this likable and clever effort should make a lot of exhibitors happy they have "Friends Like These." Starring Adam Arkin, Robert Costanzo and David Straithairn. Directed and written by Philip F. Messina. Produced by Penny Marshall, Robert Greenhut, Andrea Asimov, Marty Feinberg, Amy Lemisch, Joanne Astrow, Mark Lonon and John Ein. No distributor set. Comedy. Rated R for language. Running time: 105 min

Tags: Adam Arkin, Robert Costanzo, David Straithairn, Philip F. Messina, womanizer, friendship, Penny Marshall, filmmaking
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