Peter Riegert is one of those actors you know by sight but not necessarily by name. Over the last 25 years hes appeared in everything from Animal House to The Sopranos. Always competent, occasionally exceptional (Local Hero and Crossing Delancey), he is the quintessential character actor. It therefore makes sense that his feature length directorial debut is a modest, if somewhat haphazard, affair; it capitalizes on Riegerts strengths as a performer but, like most supporting roles, falls victim to irrelevancy.
Leo Spivak (Riegert), an aging marketing exec, is an unremarkable man. Dissatisfied with his wife, his daughter, his father and himself, he can barely muster the will to stop an inexperienced subordinate (Jake Hoffman) from taking his job. Overcome by midlife malaise, his behavior becomes more and more erratic, leading him into comically awkward situations. These self-destructive adventures are meant to reveal a fuller picture of this otherwise hapless schlemiel. Unfortunately, not all the pieces fit together.
Adapted from Gerald Shapiros collection of short stories, Bad Jews and Other Stories, Riegerts film has a herky-jerky narrative that, though occasionally amusing, misses more often than it hits. The episodic and unfocused nature of the story robs it of dramatic urgency. In particular, Spivaks numerous scenes with his infirm father (the wonderful Eli Wallach) seem unformed and redundant.
Only in the films last act do things finally heat up. A low-rent rabbi (played brilliantly by Eric Bogosian) gives a hilariously disparaging eulogy for Leos father, prompting the son to deliver an affecting and heartfelt rebuttal. This, in turn, forces him to re-evaluate and reclaim his role as a husband, father and, ultimately, son.
The cast is uniformly good. Isabella Rossellini deftly plays Spivaks nervous and long-suffering wife and Beverly DAngelo appears as the befuddled object of Leos high school lust. But its Riegert who impresses us most; his laid-back, likably ironic performance offers unexpected delights and more than a few memorable moments.
King Of The Corner tries to confront the intrinsic worth of an unexceptional man struggling against a bland existence. Its a topic worthy of examination but the screenwriters seem unable to find an effectively dramatic trajectory. Much like Leo, the film barely keeps it together.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111). Riegert will host a Q&A at showings on Friday, June 24, and Saturday, June 25.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to [email protected].