Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead – Review

Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead

with Andy Garcia, Christopher Walken, Fairuza Balk
Directed by Gary Fleder
Written by Scott Rosenberg
(Miramax, 1996)
by Scott Hefflon

Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, aside from being a long, unwieldy title, is a sexy, stylin’, ambitious, star-studded action thriller with a love interest, humor, clutch one-liners, dramatic lighting, smoldering glances, and a rockin’ soundtrack. Admittedly, the rather simple plot is overshadowed to the point of being all but forgotten by powerful performances, subtle nuances and recurring themes and shit which usually overextend their context and fall flat. What passes for a plot is that crippled, ruthless mob boss, affectionately called “The Man with the Plan” (Walken), “encourages” ex-gangster Jimmy the Saint (Garcia) to pull one last job: to “discourage” a hapless dweeb from proposing to the girl The Man’s crazy-as-a-shithouse-rat son loves. Jimmy’s business, video-taping the dying’s advice to their loved ones, is going under, so he agrees to help, bantering playfully as Walken chides, “So, are you biting the pillow yet? You will. It’s a new world thing. One day you’re saving the rainforests, the next you’re chuggin’ cock,” and such pleasantries. Jimmy reassembles the old crew, chain-smokin’ tattooed bad ass Franchise (William Forsythe) who’s now got three grubby-faced rugrats and is married to a scowling, perma-pregnant troll, Pieces (Christopher Lloyd), whose body is rotting and falling off as he festers in a sticky-walled porn theater, Critical Bill the fecal freak, the brown boy, the dookie taster (Treat Williams), who’s working out his excessive aggression by using the corpses at his funeral home job as punching bags, and Easy Wind (Bill Nunn), the, uh, black guy. In a nutshell, the job gets botched, people get killed, and Jimmy is told to put it in the wind, to leave Denver for good, or suffer the fate of his crew: Buckwheat. It’s not that they kill you, it’s that they take you out in the most painful way possible. Usually they shoot you up the ass and it takes you 15-20 minutes to die. All this is omnisciently narrated by The Old Guy At The Malt Shop (Jack Warden).

But amidst the carnage there is budding love. Or at least some incredibly sultry smiles and tender looks that’ll make your heart ache with longing. Jimmy the Saint is a smoothy in the best sense of the word: He’s a hopeless romantic, and he’s genuine. Then again, he’s falling for Dagney (Gabrielle Anwar) which is about as inevitable as falling for gravity. My God, is she beautiful. While strong-willed feminists may be offended by the charmingly näive female lead, the only woman who isn’t a junkie or shot after two seconds of screen time, she is the one men will ruin their lives trying to possess. As Jimmy puts it, “You glide. It’s a very attractive quality. Most other girls, they merely plod along, while you, on the other hand, you glide.” Oh yeah, that got those amazing lips pursed in a suppressed smile. I believe the clincher was, in asking of her current amour, “Does he make you thump? Girls who glide need guys who make them thump.” Never mind, just rent the movie and take thorough notes, gentlemen, ’cause it worked. And even as his friends, those he brought in on the job, are getting picked off by the lethal, no-words-wasted hitman, Mr. Shush (Steve Buscemi), Jimmy still has trouble tearing himself from her side.

The true magic of Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead is in the gangster lingo and the subtle details. The language is not forced, not contrived, despite phrases like “in the days there was never a better wing man when things turned Danish” and the repetitions of “Give it a name” and the parting “Boat Drinks.” Personalized gestures, nicknames, and terminology is so instinctive that even if it’s not actually explained (usually by the narrator), you get the gist. Amazing, especially considering the ratio of hip speak to trite drivel. From battlecries to arched eyebrow witticisms, the language is superb, the details too intricate to isolate and explore. This is a movie that should be digested slowly, character by character, detail by detail. I’d actually buy this one.