Thanks to a sandpapery mug, beady-eyed stare and menacing baritone, actor Robert Davi has carved out a sturdy career in movies and television playing hard cases on one side of the law or the other. So it's pleasant to report that his directorial debut, "The Dukes," while not without problems, at least showcases a tenderness and lightness of spirit that starts with Davi's performance as Danny, a doo-wop singer struggling to make ends meet in an unforgiving world for oldies acts.
Because the actor co-wrote the movie too, one might say an image-shifting campaign is afoot.
Far from their '60s heyday, divorced dad Danny and his Dukes-mate George (Chazz Palminteri) live in a spiral of financial pressures that find them working in the Italian kitchen of their restaurateur aunt (Miriam Margolyes) rather than singing for their supper. And when they do get gigs through their ineffectual manager (Peter Bogdanovich), they're the kind that make a guy with temper issues like Danny act out the perfect tirade to the bathroom mirror before gamely donning a tomato costume for an undignified commercial.
That well-turned scene, and a touchingly melancholic moment when Danny explains to the son he cherishes why he doesn't sing anymore, hint at the bittersweet charmer "The Dukes" could have been.