Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Foxy Brown

Mulholland Falls

Switchblade Sisters

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead

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Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

Once upon a time in Hollywood, there was a writer named Quentin Tarantino, QT here because we don't feel like writing 'Tarantino' 80 times. QT used to do punch-up work on Hollwood scripts. Then one day, young QT sold a couple of scripts, and got together enough money to make his own movie. That movie, named Reservoir Dogs, got a lot of critical praise, and made a little money, so QT made another movie. That movie was called Pulp Fiction, and it got a lot more critical praise, won an Oscar, and made a lot of money. And while young QT will certainly make another movie, plenty of people are willing to fill the void in the mean time.

We have been inundated with various riffs on the Pulp Fiction/QT film in the last few years. Some of the more prominent examples include Grosse Point Blank, Two Days in the Valley, and Romeo is Bleeding. Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, while technically written before Reservoir Dogs, is yet another entry in the genre of noirish, self-conscious, pop-culture-quoting gangster movies.

Of all the rip-offs, this one probably has the best cast. Andy Garcia, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Treat Williams, Steve Buscemi, Gabrielle Anwar, Jack Warden, and Christopher Walken all lend their talents to Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead. Garcia plays Jimmy the Saint, a former wise guy whose new legitimate business is failing. It looks like he may be saved by the Man with the Plan, played by Mr. Creepy himself, Christopher Walken. The Man (who is paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheel chair) wants Jimmy to put a scare into the intended fiancee of his son's former girlfriend, hoping that she will then return to his son.

To do this, Jimmy assembles a bunch of his old friends. All of them are former criminals, all of whom have gone various degrees of straight. At the first meeting to discuss the plan, a fight breaks out between Earl (Bill Nunn) and 'Critical' Bob (a wonderfully maniacal Treat Williams), a good sign that things aren't going to go to plan. If only Jimmy had seen Ringo Lam's Full Contact, he would know that brawls during planning sessions never bode well.

As predicted, their overly complicated plan goes badly wrong, and the exactly wrong person ends up dead. The Man orders all the people involved to be hit in the most painful way possible. The rest of the movie chronicles the characters as they try to avoid be killed by the world's greatest hitman, Mr. Shhh (played by a badly miscast Steve Buscemi).

There is more the plot. Jimmy falls in love with a beautiful woman (Gabrielle Anwar) and tries to convince her to go away with him on the run, though he won't tell her that he's on the run, or much of anything else either. And then there is a sort of theme running through the movie that has to do with Jimmy's failing business, a system that allows people to give advice to their children after they pass on.

But overall, not much of what goes on here means much. The movie seems to wallow in some pretty disgusting stuff, but without the weird charm that Tarantino features in his film. The dialogue is only moderately inspired, and just about the only pleasure in the film is watching what the actors do with it.

You can sometimes date a movie by which Playboy Playmate the bimbos featured in the movies most resemble. In this case, the Man has a nurse about whom he says, "She can't nurse worth shit, but I keep her on, because even though I can't feel it, I know I get erections in her presence." The nurse looks a lot like Jenny McCarthy, which would date this movie to 1995 or 1996. On closer inspection of the credits, it turns out the nurse was actually played by Jenny McCarthy, which probably tells you something else.

And finally, we at Stomp Tokyo feel compelled to point out that this movie does contain one bit of special interest to those of us who like giant monster movies. Just after Critical Bill blows someone away with a shotgun, he yells "I AM GODZILLA!! AND YOU ARE JAPAN!!" You told 'em Bill.

Review date: 08/26/1997

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