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A Tender, Gentler David Mamet? Hey, 'Things Change'

September 13, 1990|MARK CHALON SMITH

It's almost as if director David Mamet is saying, "Hey, look, I can do tender! I can do gentle!" The thing is, Mamet, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright best known for hard-punching, often scatological work, pulls it off in this small-frame movie starring Don Ameche.

In "Things Change," co-written by Mamet and Shel Silverstein, an uncomplicated Italian shoemaker (Ameche) agrees to take the blame for a mob hit in exchange for a lot of cash. With one weekend left before prison, the low-level Mafioso (Joe Mantegna) assigned to protect him decides to take the old man on a last fling in Lake Tahoe. Ameche masquerades as the Cosa Nostra boss he'll take the fall for, and be king for a few days.

This comic tarantella is a pleasure because the style is mostly soft-shoe and understated asides. And you've got a tidy performance from Ameche; he gives the shoemaker dignity and an Old World wisdom that is beguiling. As his foil, the anxious, blustery Mantegna is ideal.

There are times when "Things Change" seems too blithe and sentimentally indulgent, but the little moments make up for these excesses. Watching Ameche lose at gambling and nonchalantly whisper the "Things Change" line is enough of a reason to check it out.

Things Change (1988), directed by David Mamet. 100 minutes. Rated R.

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"The Thing" (1951), directed by Christian Nyby. 87 minutes. No rating. Among the first in a spate of '50s sci-fi films, this black-and-white movie is said to have inspired many contemporary filmmakers and movies. It's intentionally spare and direct, but there's wit in the script: the alien turns out to be a vegetable, of all things.

"Vampire's Kiss" (1989), directed by Robert Bierman. 96 minutes. Rated R. A contemporary spin on the vampire fantasy, with Nicolas Cage as a neurotic New Yorker who thinks a one-night stand (Jennifer Beals) has turned him into Dracula. May be too offbeat for devoted horror fans, but this clever, cartoon-ish metaphor has bite.

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