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Movie Review

Ordinary People's Dreams at Heart of 'The Tavern'

November 10, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walter Foote's "The Tavern" is in the finest tradition of the small, independent movie that endeavors to illuminate the struggles and dreams of ordinary people. With tenderness, insight and humor but also with a clear-eyed sense of reality and an absence of sentimentality, Foote acquaints us with two lifelong friends, Ronnie (Cameron Dye) and Dave (Kevin Geer).

A trim, nice-looking man on the cusp of middle age but with nothing to show for it, Ronnie sees his big chance in buying a popular Manhattan neighborhood tavern. It will be tough to finance the purchase, but as a start he enlists Dave as his partner. As a husband and father of two, Dave is understandably hesitant but cannot resist the opportunity to escape a soul-withering job in a Price Club mega-store. Ronnie and Dave then set about raising the cash necessary to make the deposit.

Among others he turns to his sister-in-law, Gina (Nancy Ticotin), whose police officer husband was slain in the line of duty a year earlier. Gina agrees but insists that Ronnie find some kind of after-school job for her 14-year-old son, Tommy (Carlo Alban), sullen and withdrawn since his father's death.

Glitches accrue, but Ronnie and Dave do manage to take over the tavern and start running it. At this point we get to the heart of the matter, which is how very tough it can be for decent working-class folks to be their own bosses--indeed, to have any real control over their destinies in corporate, increasingly technological America.

*

On the other hand, the men are also at the mercy of an older evil: the kind of people you find yourself financially entangled with when you're desperate. Dave and Ronnie would seem to be exactly the kind of men that the just-concluded presidential race seemed to target--individuals with a precarious foothold in the middle class and who become exceedingly vulnerable when they set their sites a bit higher.

These are the kinds of guys, however, whose destinies don't seem to be affected too much by campaign promises--in part because they fall between the ever-widening chasm between rich and poor, and in part because for them taking a gamble also means, perhaps inescapably, that they're getting in over their heads.

In the past, hard work, and hopefully a little luck as well, would carry the day for Ronnie and Dave, but that time seems to have passed.

In any event, Dye and Geer make Ronnie and Dave tremendously likable guys whose lack of status undermines their self-confidence at every turn but who gamely put on the best face they can in the grinding struggle simply to survive. Margaret Cho, playing absolutely straight, is Dave's wife who has her heart set on a house in the suburbs at precisely the worst time.

If "The Tavern" rings particularly true, it's surely because Foote, son of playwright Horton Foote, has had firsthand experience in taking a flier on a restaurant; significantly, his brother Horton Jr. and Horton's best friend, Michael Stewart, operate Greenwich Village's Tavern on Jane. Foote is actually a corporate attorney as well as a screenwriter and producer who is making his film debut with this picture. Foote pulls off a daring and unexpected finish for "The Tavern" that takes it to a rigorous, uncompromising level.

"The Tavern" ends up considerably more than the warm little movie it appears to be.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: Language, adult themes and situations.

'The Tavern'

Cameron Dye: Ronnie

Kevin Geer: Dave

Margaret Cho: Carol

Nancy Ticotin: Gina

A Castle Hill Productions presentation of a Foote Speed production in association with Redeemable Features. Writer-director-producer Walter Foote. Executive producers James Cooper, Lin Chen Tien. Cinematographer Kurt Lennig. Editor Josh Apter. Music Bill Lacey, Loren Toolajian. Costumes Lisa Padovani. Production designer Gonzalo Cordoba. Art director Lisanne McTernan. Set decorator Daniel Goldman. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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