Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"While it's good to learn from your own mistakes, it can be significantly funnier to watch someone else's."

Suffice to say that Jackey and Mickey (you shouldn't mix them up, but wouldn't be alone in doing so) have made some bad decisions. What's on the cards (all of them) is debt come due, and death follows with it. The prelude has Perlman's Mr Wylie explaining the laws of this particular jungle, a meditation on apex predation, hierarchies and the like. A different film would explore how popular conception of wolf psychology is based on mixed groups brought into captivity, a more different film would suggest that capitalism and masculinity are no less a cage than any zoo. This is a film that gives us instead a pair of pizza lesbian hitwomen.

Or is it Lesbian pizza hitwomen? Truth be told there's none of the six combinations that isn't somewhat amusing, if only for the oddity of it. The film resists a joke about topping, instead giving us a relatively sensitive moment about the benefits of wood versus coal fires. This is somewhat surprising in a film where a velour-infused land-yacht has a number plate of DATSDAT, but part of a fair few reversals, twists - even from camerawork.

Though it's ostensibly a comedy, I must confess that Clover rarely elicited more than a wry chuckle from me, but did, nonetheless, amuse. There were points where I found myself smiling but that often had less to do with humour than with technique. This is a film that digs deep into the menagerie of movie-making and executes any number of moments well. Pun, I suppose, intended, because this is a tale of family and debt punctuated by a succession of moments of violence.

Some of these moments of violence are references to other films, there's a Marvin who cannot be shot in the face, but there are plenty of bloodied banquettes, cerebral splashes, corpse-covered carpets, a whole litany of the lifeless. While elements of dialogue might be clichè, and indeed elements of direction definitely are, the latter are not rare but well done.

Directed by Jon Abrahams, who also stars as Mickey, this film reunites him with scriptwriter Joe Testone (amongst others) who worked on 2016's All At Once. It's a family affair: Mickey's brother Jackey is played by Mark Webber and the two have a convincing sibling chemistry, one punctuated by cracks, jibes, and slaps. A question as to whether the two agree on anything is particularly well answered. Quite a few of them in fact. This is a film where physical interaction is sometimes boosted by Crimson Gore Insertion and often by soundwork. Eagle-eared viewers will hear a Wilhelm Scream, but there are plenty of other little moments of homage and humour. Split screens, zooms to gunshot, a bit of Crimson And Clover over a flame-focused montage, a jazzy moody 'mob goes to war' that seems in slow motion and ends in them being told to hurry up.

Ron Perlman is the biggest name in the film, handily foregrounded in an opening meditation on the hierarchy of command that makes heavy use of archive footage of wolves. A goodly proportion of this film's 100ish minute run-time is establishing shots, but they're all quite nice to look at - even when repeated, clear associations between transport and characters help with a number of later revelations.

As the action unfolds and plans degenerate, the body count escalates but the delicate balance of culpability and connivance is entertainingly kept. There are a series of strong supporting performances, but it's Mickey, Jackey, and Clover that are the core of the film. There's a good chunk of violence around them too, this is often more Point Blank than Grosse Pointe Blank, but it manages the crisp coolness and small town sweat of both.

The titular Clover is Nicole Elizabeth Berger, another of the dozens who worked on Abrahams' previous. I think the painting of the World Trade Center seen on an apartment wall might be another making a reapparance. She's good, managing quite well to be slightly more fragile and definitely more competent than two marked men who find her in a basement as they find their own feet (at least) in the grave. There are other eponymous protagonists I could mention, but even in doing so I'd give something away - and though this is a film full of detail (look, early, underneath the floorboards) you'd be rewarded for finding them yourself.

I'll mention editing too - in the brothers' first fight in their family bar sharp switches to signs is a staccato treat, but those sliced scenes are shot by Matthew Quinn who has fewer credits than you'd think for someone who's created something so crisp. This is properly nice to look at, from bowling-alley basements to patrician palaces, train stations long past terminal and avuncular lairs. There are all sorts of nice moments, in a film full of parts, many of which remain attached.

In a film full of bits of stereotype, from Irish degenerates to munching mafiosi, some of its clichès are well deployed, well constructed. Though its plot is sparked by bad decisions, choosing to see it isn't one. It's not that you can't build a winning hand in an untraditional way, it's just that it might not be wise. There's a chance that this might become a cult favourite - Boondock Saints got a sequel - and there will be moments that amuse some more than others. Happily, while it's good to learn from your own mistakes, it can be significantly funnier to watch someone else's, and Mickey and Jackey make them in spades. A penny found on the ground might be a stroke of luck, but here that taste of copper is more likely to be from a slap in the face.

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2020
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Two brothers who owe money to the mob go on the run with a teenage girl, hunted by assassins.
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Director: Jon Abrahams

Writer: Michael Testone

Starring: Mark Webber, Nicole Elizabeth Berger, Jon Abrahams, Erika Christensen

Year: 2020

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: US


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