Produced by Kevin Fortuna, Brent Butler
Written and Directed by Michael Clayton
Starring James Carpinello, Dawn-Lyen Gardner,
Nicoye Banks, Scott Oakley, Matthew Rimmer,
Langston Fishburne, Lindsey Blackwell
At first glance, Michael Clayton’s directorial debut has it all.
Stories of romance, Chechen gangsters, Philly mafia, money, mayhem, domestic abuse and furries (yeah, the creepy kind) are all set against the backdrop of Atlantic City. That’s where the trouble starts, because this movie can’t decide what it wants to be.
James Carpinello (Connor) plays a credible Atlantic City landlord who gets caught in the cross fire of all the different layers of this movie. He is generally likable except for his penchant to make one shockingly dumb decision after another.
This is a real problem with mid-level screenwriting. The decision making of the “hero” makes zero sense except to keep the plot going. If you have an opportunity to get out of a situation with Chechen gangsters by being patient, forcing the issue makes it seem like you have a death wish.
One of his tenants, Alice, (Dawn-Lynn Gardner) draws him into a sub-plot of domestic abuse with her drunk and shockingly stupid boyfriend, Jerrod. Jerrod is incredibly distracting throughout the movie, because he looks, sounds and even moves like a young Laurence Fishburne. It got to the point where I had to stop the movie and look him up. Jerrod is played by Langston Fishburne, Laurence Fishburne’s son.
The most interesting character in the film is Stryker Jones, the multi platinum selling rapper that lives in the same apartment complex where Connor owns his rental units. The issue here is, what is a multi millionaire doing living in an apartment that is just north of project level in the middle of Atlantic City? It makes no sense. That being said, Stryker, played by Nicoye Banks, steals every scene he is in and outshines the rest of the movie.
If you know Atlantic City or are from NJ there is one small narrative point that will amuse you throughout. The Revel, a $2.4 billion dollar casino that opened briefly, closed and was liquidated is a discussion point throughout the film. Will it make it? Won’t it make it? The construction was going on while this film was being shot, so it sort of predicts one of the biggest real estate disasters in recent memory.
Additionally there is a lot of historic footage of Atlantic City edited into the film. This gives you the impression that The Dunning Man is some sort of love letter to Atlantic City. Unfortunately the current state of AC is completely depressing, so I am not exactly sure what the point is. There are no real discussions between the characters of the city’s history so the footage seems out of place.
Despite it’s flaws, this movie is generally watchable. Carpinello is likable and the people around him are as well. Gardner is a strong performer who outdistances the material and the overall story is mildly entertaining. I think that’s the big issue with this film. It’s amusing at times, but not funny. It’s dramatic at times, but not suspenseful. It has moments of sexuality, but it isn’t sexy. You are carried along, sometimes in weird directions and then it’s over, abruptly, in a way that makes you question the entire narrative.
2.5 out of 5 stars.
The Dunning Man will have it’s Brooklyn Premiere this Saturday,
June 10th at 8:00 PM at St. Francis College.