Ponies: Film Review

Talky drama set in an OTB parlor reveals its stage origins.

Director Nick Sandow's adaptation of the stage play stars "Sopranos" vet John Ventimiglia in this drama set in an dilapidated gambling parlor.

Ponies mostly takes place in a dilapidated OTB parlor in Brooklyn, but the stench that hangs over the proceedings mainly has the feel of bad off-Broadway theater. And indeed, this film directed by Nick Sandow and written by Michael Batistick is based on a play, originally seen in 2004 at actor Michael Imperioli’s now defunct Studio Dante. Primarily an actors’ showcase, it does at least provide the opportunity for the virtuosic John Ventimiglia (The Sopranos) to strut his stuff in a well-deserved leading role.

The charismatic actor plays Drazen, one of the more repellant characters seen on the big screen lately. A Croatian immigrant and gambling addict, he is first seen emerging from the choppy waters of the East River under circumstances that are revealed as the film progresses.

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Desperate and perpetually broke, Drazen spends most of his time trying to hustle money for two- dollar bets in the hopes of winning enough money for, among other things, a communion dress for his daughter. In between hectoring a harried OTB cashier (Tonye Patano), he viciously insults everyone in sight, especially his fellow immigrant friends, Nigerian cabbie Ken (Babs Olusanmokun) and  Venezuelan short-order cook Wallace (Kevin Corrigan).

The mostly plot-free proceedings quickly prove tedious, with the abundance of colorfully pungent dialogue attesting to the material’s stage origins and the frequent use of flashbacks proving confusing. Director Sandow doesn’t add much cinematic flair to the goings-on, with his frequent use of jump-cuts being mostly distracting.

Still, the performances are first-rate: Indie stalwart Corrigan provides his expert, finely-honed brand of sleaze, and Olusanmokun infuses his role with a stalwart dignity. But it’s clearly Ventimiglia’s show and the actor runs with it, delivering a bravura, motor-mouthed turn that makes his character as compelling as he is repugnant.   It’s the sort of performance that harkens back to the glory days of the 1970s for gritty character actors. It’s too bad, then, that the material doesn’t live up to it.

Opens July 13 (Creative Chaos Ventures).

Production: GreenBox Entertainment.

CAST: John Ventimiglia, Kevin Corrigan, Babs Olusanmokun, Tonye Patano.

Director: Nick Sandow.

Screenwriter; Michael Batistick.

Producers: Tom Donahue, Ginny Galloway.

Director of photography: Dane Lawing.

Editor: Peter Bolte.

Production designer: Elizabeth Jones.

Costume designer: Natalia Fedner.

Not rated, 95 min.