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Movie Review

Violence Strips 'Frogs' of Any Purpose


"Frogs for Snakes" opens with Barbara Hershey tarted up in hot pants and a curly blond wig entering a Manhattan skyscraper and coolly pulling a gun on a guy who has only kinky sex on his mind. Sounding like Fran Drescher, she orders him to pay up and makes clear how serious she is by shooting him in the foot. She takes the money, heads home to her small apartment and sheds wig and accent for an enthusiastic night of love with her pal Zip (John Leguizamo).

We soon learn that Hershey's Eva and Zip are part of a large group of aspiring theater actors who make ends meet by working as illegal money collectors for Eva's ex-husband, Al (Robbie Coltrane), a ruthless loan shark with dreams of becoming a theatrical impresario. When he announces that he has decided he wants to stage David Mamet's "American Buffalo," the actors who work for him start meaning it when they say they would kill for a part.

This premise is not just a little contrived and farfetched, to say the least. But had writer-director Amos Poe played against it, taking his large and sparkling ensemble cast of well-known actors somewhere fresh and imaginative, "Frogs for Snakes" might have been fun in a darkly comic way.

Instead, it swiftly turns into a blood bath, with so many of Al's moonlighters killing each other off that you wonder how he can stay in business as a loan shark, let alone mount "American Buffalo" or, in time, even a one-character play.

The point of all this carnage is elusive, with Poe perhaps meaning to suggest that actors may confuse fantasy and reality in their quest for roles they crave. If so, it's scarcely enough to justify one increasingly wearying scene after another in which one actor wipes out another with escalating indifference. It's always hard to justify the depiction of nonchalant, affectless slaughter, and in the artificial, overly theatrical context of this picture--not to say recent events in Colorado--such incessant casual killing is especially repellent.

Among the other actors wasted here are Harry Hamlin, Debi Mazar, Ron Perlman and Clarence Williams III. Starting with Hershey, everyone registers effectively, but it matters not at all, because "Frogs for Snakes"--it's not worth explaining that title--is so swiftly a turnoff. If anything, matter-of-fact murder treated in a joking way in an arty picture with pretensions to sophistication is more disturbing than in your standard action picture, in which violence is a given.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, sexuality and sex-related dialogue, language and some drug use. Times guidelines: entirely unsuitable for children.

'Frogs for Snakes'

Barbara Hershey: Eva

Robbie Coltrane: Al

John Leguizamo: Zip

Debi Mazar: Simone

A Shooting Gallery presentation in association with Rain Films. Writer-director Amos Poe. Producer Phyllis Freed Kaufman. Executive producers Larry Meistrich, Daniel J. Victor. Cinematographer Enrique Chediak. Editor Jeff Kushner. Music Lazy Boy. Costumes Candice Donnelly. Production designer Michael Shaw. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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