By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday at the Vogue Theatre in San Francisco.
I can’t even describe how much I want to like a scruffy, amiable, atmospheric, widescreen neo-noir lovingly shot in and around Buffalo. Unfortunately, The American Side is a stiff from start to finish.
Co-writer Greg Stuhr makes for an extremely unconvincing hard-boiled lead as Polish private dick Charlie Paczynski, “still a loser” and still shaking down cheating husbands in a back-alley bar. When his stripper partner goes missing on a routine blackmail mission, Charlie gets drawn into a rote plot involving a monotone femme fatale (Camilla Belle), her contemptuous intellectual brother (Matthew Broderick), a Niagara Falls enthusiast (Robert Forster, bringing it, bless his heart), a few dead bodies and a stolen Nikola Tesla notebook.
The film’s sorry attempts to recycle film noir tropes amuse for the first ten or twenty minutes. By the time The American Side re-creates the North by Northwest crop duster scene for literally no reason whatsoever, it’s merely annoying. Director and co-writer Ricker makes inspired use of Buffalo locations, and there are even some beautiful moments (as well as an in-stride Super Bowl XXV joke). However, there is also a lot of clunky corner-cutting.
If Ricker ditched the glossy, widescreen treatment for something grittier and more faithful to the essence of film noir, this might have been something more than a forgettable novelty.