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Echoes of 'Rat Pack' Heard in Bishop's 'Mad Dog Time'

November 08, 1996|JACK MATHEWS | FOR THE TIMES

Larry Bishop, the writer, director, co-producer and featured performer of the gangster farce "Mad Dog Time," is the son of comedian Joey Bishop, and was in his teens when his dad and his pals Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford--the "Rat Pack"--were in the prime of their middle-age adolescence.

This is important background, because with his first film, Bishop is doing some sort of hipster homage to the self-adoringly cool style of the '60s Rat Pack movies "Ocean's 11" and "Robin and the Seven Hoods." The movie's soundtrack features the voices of Sinatra, Martin and Davis, with songs recorded in the '60s, and among the ensemble of familiar faces is former Rat Pack member Henry Silva.

"Mad Dog Time" is technically a better movie than those earlier pictures. It's better written, more slickly filmed and, with a cast filled out by Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Goldblum, Ellen Barkin and Diane Lane, it's better performed. What it's missing is the goodwill that Rat Pack fans brought to the theater with them 30 years ago.

Bishop's quirky movie, about the maneuvering for power in a mob whose leader, Vic (Dreyfuss), is in and out of mental institutions, has to earn the audience's indulgence, and its humor is a bit too precious to accomplish that quickly. There's a sense throughout the film, an empty feeling actually, that we're not just expected to get the jokes but to be in on them.

For those with a heap of patience and a taste for black comedy, "Mad Dog Time" does begin to pay off in the second half. The violence is both extreme and extremely over-the-top. The shootouts play like backyard charades, with a lot of excessive noise, melodramatic falls and noble death-rattle speeches. And, occasionally, some of it is funny.

The story, such as it is, follows Mickey Holliday (Goldblum), an unflappable mob trigger-man, as he ices rivals in a series of quick-draw duels, tries to balance his day-night affairs with the Everly sisters (Barkin and Lane) and keep interim mob boss Ben London (Gabriel Byrne) in line until Vic returns from the asylum.

Goldblum's understated cool is the film's great asset. The quick-draw scenes, with Mickey sitting across from his opponent at matching antique executive desks, are surreal sendups of the western shootout, and Goldblum's demeanor is a blend of menace and sexy confidence. It's as if Jack Palance had been taken over by the spirit of Cary Grant.

In contrast, Byrne's performance has the subtleties of a roof collapse. Ben is all over the place, talking in bad rhymes and mad riffs, a raw nerve in search of a sedative. But not even a bullet or 10 can keep him down.

Dreyfuss, whose company produced "Mad Dog Time," doesn't show up until late in the film, and then has little more than an extended cameo. Seen in briefer cameos are Burt Reynolds, in another of his late-career reptilian roles; Gregory Hines, as a stylish don; Richard Pryor, as Jimmy the Gravedigger; and Rob Reiner, as a cackling taxi driver.

* MPAA rating: R, for violence, language and sexuality. Times guidelines: cartoonish mayhem too intense for kids.


'Mad Dog Time'

Jeff Goldblum: Mickey Holliday

Gabriel Byrne: Ben London

Ellen Barkin: Rita Everly

Diane Lane: Grace Everly

Richard Dreyfuss: Vic

Larry Bishop: Nick

Gregory Hines: Jules Flamingo

Kyle MacLachlan: Jake Parker

Burt Reynolds: "Wacky" Jacky Jackson

A Dreyfuss/James production, released by United Artists. Director Larry Bishop. Producer Judith Rutherford James. Screenplay by Bishop. Cinematographer Frank Byers. Editor Norman Hollyn. Costumes Ileane Meltzer. Music Earl Rose. Production design Dina Lipton. Art director Michael Atwell. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

* At selected theaters throughout Southern California.

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