'The Dukes'


Veteran actor Robert Davi is normally seen playing dastardly villains or tough cops, so it's not surprising that he would want to show off his sensitive side in his directorial debut, "The Dukes," which he also co-wrote.

A bizarre tale of a washed-up doo-wop vocal group planning a heist in order to finance a comeback, this mildly engaging comedy drama has enough quirky charms to compensate for its rough spots.

The Dukes have fallen on hard times, with the occasional gig arranged by their long-suffering manager (Peter Bogdanovich) hardly enough to pay their bills. Indeed, two of its members, cousins Danny (Davi) and George (Chazz Palminteri), have been reduced to working in the kitchen of their elderly aunt's (Miriam Margolyes) Italian restaurant.

When George comes up with the idea of buying a nightclub to showcase the group, the resulting need for cash prompts an ill-conceived plot to rob a local dentist of the gold that he's extracted from his patients' mouths.

The scheme, also involving a former burglar (Bruce Weitz) who is tempted out of retirement, goes comically awry, but rest assured that by the film's end the Dukes have another opportunity to sing a selection of doo-wop classics.

There are enough bits of offbeat humor — involving such things as George's taste for plus-size women and the group's humiliatingly dressing up as tomatoes for a cheesy commercial — to overcome the tired plot line and awkward attempts at sentimentality. The actors display a winning camaraderie, with Palminteri particularly enjoyable as the womanizing George.