‘Monument Ave.’ not your everyday fairy tale

By The Columbia Chronicle

Troy Pottgen

Correspondent

In “Monument Ave.” director Ted Demme “The Ref” cruises once again with actor-comedian Denis Leary, this time to spotlight smalltime crooks in a lower-class Irish neighborhood in Boston. Leary plays a car thief named Bobby who’s in a rut and lives at home with his mom. His neighborhood is being overrun by yuppy outsiders. He blows most of his take from stealing cars on coke, and what’s left he wagers (and loses) on Celtics games. Since his hapless girlfriend is usually on the arm of Jackie (Colm Meany), the local crime boss, he spends nights doing coke, drinking Mickeys and expounding upon the virtues of Michelle Pfeiffer’s breasts with guys who have nicknames like “Digger” and “Mouse.” Not your everyday fairy tale, but things could be worse, and soon are.

Things start spiraling downward for Bobby when his coke-addled cousin gets whacked by Jackie’s thugs for supposedly singing to the Feds during an unusually short stint in the joint. It’s nothing new to Bobby, who has seen many of his childhood friends land in a pine box courtesy of Jackie, and when the police arrive, Bobby and the boys give them the usual line about “being in the bathroom” during the shooting. He hates having to console and lie to the mothers of the slain boys while being forced to watch Jackie feign sympathy and offer them his token financial support. But Bobby, like the rest of the neighborhood, feels helpless to act otherwise. Only when the boss’ next hit takes out Seamus (Jason Barry as Bobby’s harmless cousin who had recently arrived from Dublin) does Bobby finally aim to get even.

Penned by Mike Armstrong (“Two If By Sea,” another Leary vehicle), “Monument Ave.” could easily be written off as another slice-of-life flick showcasing the lives of losers were it not for a breakthrough performance by an unlikely actor. Leary shines as Bobby O’Grady, at times briefly illuminating an otherwise completely dark and doomed soul. Bobby is not your everyday protaganist — unless an aging “Good Will Hunting” character gone bad qualifies as a hero. Despite his numerous flaws, however, we still find ourselves rooting for him, and that has everything to do with Leary. He portrays Bobby with a gritty realism that is wholly believable and ultimately sympathetic. And Denis Leary the actor manages to provide Bobby with the rough edge that his environment requires without escaping to the trademark expletive-spewing, nonsensical ranting tough-guy that is Denis Leary the comedian.

Leary is supported by a capable cast, including relative newcomer Famke Janssen, who plays Bobby’s part-time girlfriend, Katy. Fans of Janssen may have trouble recognizing her real life supermodel-style beauty behind the tired, weathered face of Katy that only strong acting (not makeup) can create. Additionally, Billy Crudup (“Inventing the Abbotts”) appears in an all too brief but beautifully unnerving scene as Bobby’s coke-crazy cousin, Teddy, who tries to explain to Jackie how he negotiated himself out of jail without squealing to the cops about their crime ring. After Jackie seems to reasonably accept the ambiguous explanation, we see a mildly amusing flashback involving a would-be heist by Mouse (Ian Hart) before we get Jackie’s true response. Noah Emmerich (“Truman Show”) plays another buddy role capably as Red and, with Barry and John Diehl (as Digger), competently rounds out the dastardly gang of small-time crooks. Jeanne Tripplehorn (“Til There Was You”) also appears, although in a fleeting throwaway role as a yuppy would-be love interest of Bobby.

There were a few potholes along “Monument Ave.” I found the drug-induced, testosterone-filled “guy-talk” scenes near the beginning cliche and full of regurgitated, reworked material (films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Swingers” and “Beautiful Girls” do it better). The worst scene involves Bobby and the gang roughing up a black man who got off at the wrong “T” stop by accident. Although Bobby uses the unknowing victim for a relatively harmless motive before freeing him (and providing him instructions to the right “T” stop, even!), I found the action to be completely incongruous with the character and devoid of plot-advancing material. Simply put, I didn’t like it. Otherwise, I enjoyed this movie. Leary’s performance is easily worth the price of admission, and the story itself is intriguing — we are drawn to stories of crime and punishment, of hope and despair, of good and evil. This movie contains just enough of these elements to construct its plot, but the characters are really what sustain it and ultimately make it worthwhile.

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