'Stevie D': Film Review

Stevie D - Still 1 -H 2016
Courtesy of Candy Factory Films
The concept outshines the execution.

A struggling actor is enlisted to play the real-life role of a targeted man in a comedy set among mob hits and audition rooms.

Wiseguys meet A Tale of Two Cities, sorta kinda, in the L.A.-set crime comedy Stevie D. Writer-director-star Chris Cordone’s highly uneven debut feature declares its budget constraints at every turn, along with its countless sources of inspiration, from Get Shorty to Pulp Fiction. As borrowed as it is, though, the high concept outshines the execution; it’s easy to see how a significantly slimmed-down and sharpened version of the overlong feature might have been a small-time contender.

Cordone’s smartest move is the casting of seasoned character actors, including Hal Linden, John Aprea and Kevin Chapman (of the series Person of Interest). Chapman is especially good in the key role of Lenny, right-hand man to Aprea’s construction magnate, Angelo, and the one who cooks up the preposterous scheme that drives the action. It involves doppelgangers, both played by Cordone: the title character, who’s Angelo’s spoiled, lazy son, and his polar opposite, struggling actor Michael, as humble and kind as Stevie D is obnoxiously self-absorbed.

After Stevie D lands in life-threateningly hot water with an East Coast mob boss (Al Sapienza), he goes into hiding, and look-alike Michael is enlisted, under false pretenses and with the promise of a huge payday, to parade around town as the “missing” wayward son. The gig will end when Michael is offed and Stevie D undergoes plastic surgery.

Cordone spends way too much time on the lackluster romance between Michael and attorney Daria (Torrey DeVitto), the same woman Stevie D had been charmlessly pursuing, who is understandably shocked by his transformation from certified creep to earnest nice guy — earnest, that is, except for the fact that he’s not who he says he is. Cordone’s screenplay follows a by-the-numbers route through revelation, betrayal and reconciliation — the Stations of the Romantic-Conflict Storyline.

Had Cordone jettisoned the stilted love subplot, the movie would at least have had more oomph. Though there’s nothing particularly original about a narrative connecting mobsters and Hollywood, and not every element here works, there’s a nice comic energy in those that do, from Linden’s old-school agent to Chapman’s zingy line readings as the consigliere who gradually embraces his thespian aspirations.

And however blatantly Tarantino-esque the banter between Big Lou and Little Dom, the hit men who are tailing Michael/Stevie D, actors Phil Idrissi and Darren Capozzi make the most of the characters’ circumstances: They're men with time on their hands, essentially on a working vacation in Los Angeles. They toss around witty, wide-ranging pop culture observations as they shoot the breeze. (According to the film’s production notes, much of their repartee is improvised.)

Such engaging comic chemistry is something to hang on to in the midst of the sluggishly paced proceedings. So is the occasional visual gag, as when Stevie D’s first order of business upon going into hiding is to install stripper poles throughout his new house. It isn’t much, but at least it’s a break from the obviously repurposed sets that appear throughout the production, not to mention the suburban exterior locations that serve as poor stand-ins for Beverly Hills. Doppelgangers they’re not.

Production company: Pelican Productions
Distributor: Candy Factory Films
Cast: Chris Cordone, Torrey DeVitto, John Aprea, Spencer Garrett, Al Sapienza, Robert Costanzo, Kevin Chapman, Hal Linden, Phil Idrissi, Darren Capozzi, Jason E. Kelley, Guy Camilleri
Director-screenwriter: Chris Cordone
Producers: Chris Cordone, Brandon Amelotte
Executive producers: Adam J. Silver, Kuldeep Malkani
Director of photography: Paul McIlvaine
Production designer: Brandy Maasch
Costume designers: Suzy Magnin, Isabel Mandujano
Editors: Bill Sebastian, John Tuttle
Composer: Ted Howe
Casting: Kevin Mockrin, Karina Walters

119 minutes