'Clover': Film Review

Courtesy of Film
The gory violence overwhelms the potential laughs.

Two hapless brothers, with a 13-year-old girl in tow, try to avoid getting bumped off by a mob boss in Jon Abrahams' darkly comic thriller.

Blending dark comedy and graphically bloody violence isn't as easy as Quentin Tarantino makes it look. Too many films have fallen into the trap of attempting to replicate that complicated recipe, with Clover, directed by and co-starring Jon Abrahams, being the latest example. This tale of two hapless brothers on the run after a mob boss orders a hit on them, with a possibly psychopathic 13-year-old girl in tow, has some engaging moments. But it never manages to overcome its air of overfamiliarity, straining mightily but giving off little but flop sweat.

The story revolves around the Callaghan brothers, Mickey (Abrahams) and Jackie (Mark Webber), who have fallen into hock as a result of Jackie's gambling problem and a failing bar that's been in their family for generations. Unfortunately, the person to whom they owe a considerable sum of money is local mobster Tony Davolio (Chazz Palminteri, in full Chazz Palminteri mode), who offers them one last opportunity to make good.

It involves accompanying Tony's son Joey (Michael Godere) to collect money from yet another overdue debtor, with the threat of violence obviously on the horizon. The brothers go along with the deal, but things inevitably go awry. Joey winds up dead, gunned down by the victim's extremely self-possessed teenage daughter, Clover (Nicole Elizabeth Berger). Realizing that Tony will blame them for his son's death, Mickey and Jackie take it on the lam, taking Clover along with them.

The ensuing deadly cat-and-mouse game between the brothers and Tony's goons takes up most of the film's running time, with the former attempting to enlist an assortment of friends and relatives to help them. These include the tough-talking, and even tougher acting, Pat (Tichina Arnold, tearing into the role with gusto); Mickey's hard-boiled ex-girlfriend Angie (Jessica Szohr); and the brothers' wacky cousin Terry (a nearly unrecognizable Jake Weber, clearly having fun), who turns out to be just as deadly as their pursuers. A pair of ruthless female assassins (Erika Christensen, Julia Jones) dispatched by a rival crime boss (Ron Perlman, in little more than a cameo) also figure into the mix, as does, increasingly, Clover, who turns out to be far more formidable than your average teenage girl.

There's potential for fun in the raucously violent goings-on, but the overstuffed screenplay by Michael Testone isn't nearly as clever as it seems to think it is, with such flourishes as a lengthy monologue comparing the relative merits of wolves and humans coming across as highly affected. More problematically, director Abrahams leans so heavily into the gory violence (there's enough blood spatter to fuel a dozen horror films) that the proceedings take on an acrid aftertaste. One scene in particular, in which Perlman's mobster bludgeons an underling to death with a bowling pin, seems more appropriate for a Scorsese film than this relatively lighthearted, trivial exercise.

The film benefits from its western New York locations, especially with an elaborate gun battle sequence shot in Buffalo's formidable Central Terminal, a former train station. And the performers certainly give it their all, with Webber and Abrahams displaying enjoyable comic chemistry as the hapless siblings and Berger impressive as the self-possessed title character who fuels the proceedings. But their efforts are not enough to make Clover blossom.  

Production company: Virtuoso Films
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media
Cast: Jon Abrahams, Mark Webber, Nicole Elizabeth Berger, Chazz Palminteri, Ron Perlman, Erika Christensen, Julia Jones, Tichina Arnold, Jessica Szohr, Michael Godere, Jake Weber
Director: Jon Abrahams
Screenwriter: Michael Testone
Producers: Jon Abrahams, Richard Guay
Director of photography: Matthew Quinn
Production designer: Giles Masters
Editor: Aaron Yanes
Composer: Leon Michels, Matthieu Scheyer
Costume designer: Amy Stofsky
Casting: Billy Hopkins, Ashley Ingram

101 minutes