The Big Shot-Caller -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

It is hard to see how "The Big Shot-Caller" will catch fire with audiences. From its awkward, ambiguous title to its lack of charismatic performers, this minor drama doesn't have many commercial prospects.

Certainly Marlene Rhein means well as director, writer and co-star of her film. Beyond that, she even cast her own real-life brother to play the lead -- and her character's brother -- in the film. In her story, Jamie (David Rhein) is a single Manhattan accountant who has no one in his life. One night, he meets and falls for Elissa (Laneya Wiles).

After a brief courtship, Elissa suddenly and unexpectedly dumps Jamie. In despair, his world turns upside down, and he also loses his job and apartment. After moving in with his sister, Lianne (director Rhein), he is encouraged to take up salsa dancing classes. In time, Jamie restores his self-confidence and finds a new reason for being.

Marlene Rhein's straightforward approach to this low-key tale gives it more of a sense of realism than, say, "Strictly Ballroom" (1992), which is referenced as Jamie's favorite childhood movie, but "Shot-Caller" fails to deliver any scenes or moments of style or wit. Closer, then, to the Japanese "Shall We Dance?" (1996) or, more to the point, its 2004 American remake, Rhein's film is much more about the story than the dancing and never comes alive in part because of its dull leading man (the casting might be appropriate but doesn't help the entertainment value). "Saturday Night Fever" it is not.

The production is competent, from Paolo Cascio's intimate photography and lighting to the smart score by Justin Asher.

"Shot-Caller" won't offend you, but it won't make you get up and dance, either.

Opens: Friday, May 15 (Stella Films)
Production company: Stella Films
Cast: David Rhein, Marlene Rhein, Robert Costanzo, Laneya Wiles, Leslie Eva Glaser, Rodney Lopez, Marianna Parma, Natasha A. Williams, Maria Soccor, Stephanie Bush.
Screenwriter-irector: Marlene Rhein
Producer: Christine Giorgio
Co-producer: Erika Yeomans
Director of photography: Paolo Cascio
Music: Justin Asher
Editor: Christine Giorgio
Not rated, 90 minutes