City by the Sea

Bomb Rating: 

(Director Michael) Caton-Jones has about as much understanding of symbol and metaphor as a sock puppet.

I actually almost admired director Michael Caton-Jones's idea, which was to use the backdrop of Long Beach, New York, as a symbol for the relationship between a father and son. Unfortunately, Caton-Jones has about as much understanding of symbol and metaphor as a sock puppet.

For your information, Long Beach in the '50s was a thriving community full of hope. Today, it's a run-down cesspool. Detective Vincent LaMarca (Robert De Niro) is an accomplished NYPD detective. His son, Joey (James Franco), is a drug addict and total failure. Here is where Caton-Jones could have actually accomplished something by focusing on the relationship of the men with the place and investigating the reasons why a good man doesn't always raise a good son. Instead, it's like Caton-Jones went on a heroin binge and rented every episode of "Dynasty" for inspiration.

As if it's not bad enough that Joey is a drug addict, he accidentally kills somebody and then his father is assigned to the case before it's known that the key suspect is his son. Amazingly, when the identity of the suspect is revealed, LaMarca remains on the case. Then another tragedy strikes and Joey is the prime suspect yet again. Then we find out that the elder LaMarca is the son of an executed child murderer (seriously, I'm not making this up). Then, in a last desperate plot twist, LaMarca discovers Joey has a son and that he's a grandfather.

This all comes as a complete shock to LaMarca's girlfriend, Michelle (Frances McDormand). The best scene in the movie occurs when LaMarca, after much urging from Michelle to "let her in," spills the beans on his life in frenetic detail. Michelle gives him a look like she was just told that somebody had thrown her dog off the Chrysler Building. Either that or somebody poisoned her pork chops. It's amazing that, after reading the script, Oscar-winners like DeNiro and McDormand actually agreed to participate, instead of doing the wise thing and starting a fund to have Caton-Jones launched into the atmosphere aboard a Russian rocket along with Lance Bass.

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