Welcome to Collinwood
Five guys. One safe. No brains.
When jailed petty thief Cosimo (Luis Guzman) is given the recipe for a heist so perfect it's practically a masterpiece--or, in his specific street lingo, a ''Bellini''--his long-suffering girl Rosalind (Patricia Clarkson) sends the word out to all the seedy characters and petty huslers in Collinwood, a working-class neighborhood on Cleveland's East Side: Cosimo needs a ''Mullinski,'' or fall guy, to take the prison rap for him so he can pull the safecracking job. However, five potential Mullinskis--cocky prizefighter Pero (Sam Rockwell), broke single dad Riley (William H Macy), slick and streetwise Leon (Isaiah Washington), handsome gigolo Basil (Andrew Davoli) and over-the-hill thief Toto (Michael Jeter)--decide to pull off the Bellini themselves. If only they were as smart as they were desperate for cash.
The film is produced by director Steven Soderbergh and actor George Clooney, both of whom know more than a little about on-screen performance, and they've recruited a troupe of top-notch character actors, most of whom audiences usually see shining in supporting roles. The film particularly provides a chance for Rockwell, who's been turning in a dizzying amount of scene-stealing performances in recent years, to step into the spotlight as a leading man, and the actor proves worthy of the task. At first seeming the swaggering loudmouth who's too dumb to know he's dumb, Rockwell's Pero morphs believably into the movie's main mover and shaker and, ultimately, a convincing romantic lead (his scenes with a sweetly restrained Jennifer Esposito have both warmth and a hint of sizzle). Among the veterans, the always-engaging Macy plays a fresh variation of one his trademark hapless losers on the brink, while the vastly underused Jeter brings spark and life to an otherwise woefully underwritten role. Meanwhile the newcomers, Washington and Davoli, hold their own against the heavyweights and show great promise for roles to come (Gabrielle Union is also potent in a blink-and-you'll-miss-her part). On the flip side, Soderbergh stalwart Guzman is as watchable as ever, but his role never develops enough--comedically or dramatically--to allow him to give a truly eye-opening performance, while recent Emmy-winner Clarkson's considerable talents are wasted in a thankless ''girlfriend'' part. Ironically, the most disappointing performance comes from the flick's biggest name: Clooney, who cameos as a tattooed, wheelchair-bound safecracker. George is game enough, but the script lets him down by giving his seemingly outrageous character very little by way of outrageous dialogue or action.
The up-and-coming writing-directing team of brothers Anthony and Joe Russo prove adroit enough with their visuals and staging. They know enough to get out of their actors' ways and never allow the film's many slapstick moments to hit the audience sledgehammer-hard a la those other brothers, the Farrellys. But where the film avoids getting dumb and dumber, it also never goes far enough to wring more than polite chuckles out of the comedic set-ups--call them Genteel and Genteeler. Nor do they reach the heights of arty loopiness of that second set of cinematic siblings, the Coens. Instead, the Russos' film--which borrows liberally from the Italian comedy Big Deal on Madonna Street--is as featherweight as cotton candy: tasty enough while it's in front of you but also instantly forgettable, save for the high-quality performances.
While Collinwood is certainly an amusing, diverting little movie and the actors bring a lot of charm and craft to their roles, it is--in its own parlance--no Bellini.