The shticky comedy "A Wake in Providence" makes a belated arrival six years after it was made because of the demise of the Shooting Gallery series. The long delay did not help the film (does it ever?) and it seems even more out of time than it must have in 1999. Vincent Pagano stars as Anthony Gelati, an F.B.I. (Full-Blooded Italian) actor based in L.A. who returns to Rhode Island with his African American girlfriend, Alissa (Victoria Rowell), for his grandfather's funeral. The film's broadly drawn (if affectionate) caricatures who make up Anthony's extended Italian American family (faux mobsters and all) must deal with the shock that Alissa is indeed black, a fact Anthony failed previously to mention.
Written by Pagano, his brother Mike (who plays Anthony's brother, Frankie), Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, and directed by Rosario Roveto Jr., the film aims for a light social satire but mainly falls flat. It feels more like a long-lost pilot for some never-aired 1970s sitcom or a misguided sequel to a Billy Joel song. Rowell and Adrienne Barbeau as Aunt Lydia, saddled with the least campy roles, acquit themselves the best among the actors.
-- Kevin Crust
"A Wake in Providence," rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At Loews Cineplex Beverly Center 13, 8522 Beverly Blvd., (310) 652-7760.
It's a zany 'Undertaking'
Deliberate silliness is hard to sustain, but "Undertaking Betty" pretty much succeeds, albeit in a minor way that's more likely to play better as home viewing than in a theater -- which may be why it sat on Miramax's shelf for three years. Under Nick Hurran's direction, a first-rate cast headed by Albert Molina, Brenda Blethyn, Naomi Watts and Christopher Walken gets into the zany spirit of Frederick Ponzlov's script.
As young people in the small Welsh city of Wrottin-Powys, population 7,500, Molina's Boris Plotz and Blethyn's Betty Rhys Jones were mutually smitten and shared a passion for ballroom dancing, but the dutiful Betty's father insisted she marry Robert Pugh's pompous Hugh, who was actually interested in Betty only as an heiress. Seventeen years into their marriage, Hugh has become the town mayor, carrying on a torrid affair with his sexy secretary (Watts) while Betty is stuck caring for his terrible bedridden mother. But when her mother-in-law at last dies, Betty is brought in close contact again with Boris, the local undertaker. (A subplot has Walken cast as a brash American mortician intent on putting Boris out of business as his first step in taking over the funeral industry in Wales with his hard-charging promotional tactics and his cockamamie funerals, as flashy as Vegas revues.) Just as Watts' mercenary mistress starts dreaming of eliminating Betty, Boris is persuading Betty to play dead so that they can run off together. This is when the fun gets underway in earnest.
-- Kevin Thomas
"Undertaking Betty," Rated R for some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Exclusively at the Crest Theater Nov. 12-18, screening at 10 a.m. only. 1262 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 474-7866.