WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD ** 1/2
STARRING: William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell and George Clooney
WRITER/DIRECTORS: Anthony and Joe Russo
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
RATING: R for language
THE LOWDOWN: Old-fashioned caper comedy about bungling small-time crooks.
I know, I know: Be careful what you wish for. After almost a decade lamenting the way so many indie filmmakers simply revisit Quentin Tarantino's bag of tricks, I should be delighted by the arrival of a heist movie which isn't saturated in blood and pop culture references.
I'd love to propose "Welcome to Collinwood" as a low-fat alternative to the cynical self-awareness and ultraviolence of so many films released in the wake of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction." And it's true that you won't find any heads in duffel bags or dissertations on fast food in this one.
But neither will you discover much to get excited about, beyond a solid cast of first-rate character actors. The best-known of these is surely William H. Macy, sporting diagonal sideburns as a burglar with a baby in tow. Aiding and abetting him are the wonderfully eccentric Michael Jeter as a raspy-voiced codger and Isaiah Washington as a dandy equipped with smoking jacket and cigarette holder.
Luis Guzman plays the would-be car thief whose jailhouse exploits start the whole thing rolling, and Patricia Clarkson is his sharp-tongued, no-nonsense spouse. Throw in a hefty cameo by safecracker George Clooney (who co-produced with Steven Soderbergh), and you've got something like a low-rent "Ocean's Eleven" starring the Three Stooges.
These folks are woefully inept at the crime business, despite their jazzy insider lingo. They may talk the talk, but they can't walk the walk without tripping over their shoelaces.
If "Collinwood" sounds old-fashioned, that's probably because it's a remarkably faithful, scene-by-scene remake of the beloved 1958 Italian caper comedy "Big Deal on Madonna Street." (Louis Malle also redid "Deal" in 1984 as "Crackers," and Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks" is another recent tribute.) Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who wrote and directed the new film, have retained the original's plot, sight gags and even the minutest of details and transposed them to a down-and-out section of Cleveland, which bears a resemblance to our own Black Rock.
"Collinwood" isn't a bad movie, it's just not a very funny one. It's no "Dogs"-wannabe, but it's no "Big Deal" on its own, either.