‘Back to Manhattan’ is filled with great characters making their way through aimless story

Eddie Sicoli (left) and Paul Dunleavy co-star in 'Back to Manhattan'
Eddie Sicoli (left) and Paul Dunleavy co-star in ‘Back to Manhattan’

My recent trips to a few film festivals provided me with an opportunity to check out some really interesting films. They weren’t all the best, but it was educational to see different styles and formats, from feature length to short.

At the Queens International Film Festival I attended last month, there was one film in particular that seemed to garner a lot of attention. I managed to catch a screening, but was pleased when given the opportunity to view the DVD the next night.

Shot digitally with a Canon XL1s and with a budget of reportedly $18,000, Back to Manhattan is an ensemble comedy featuring a pair of loan sharks out to collect, a Mets fan on a day trip to the big city, and the series of characters these people encounter throughout the day.

There are some clever moments here, mostly with the two loan sharks, who bumble around the city as they try to track down two gamblers who owe them $2,500. Paul Dunleavy and Eddie Sicoli play the two sharks, and the chemistry between the two provide the film’s best moments. Dunleavy turns in the film’s finest performance, serving as comic relief to Sicoli’s straight man.

The pair of gamblers the loan sharks are chasing also deliver a few good moments, as they continually dodge their pursuers and struggle to get money in order to pay off their debts.

The second main story of the film is led by Michael MacKewice, who plays a rabid Mets fan who goes into Manhattan to get an autograph from Keith Hernandez. He’s avoided the city for five years after an unfortunate run in with a rather large videographer. Although his performance isn’t stellar, he does have a likeability that makes you laugh as his character gets deeper and deeper into trouble.

Where Back to Manhattan falters is the story, which ultimately goes no where. It’s entertaining to watch some of these characters, but no storyline gets resolved. As a result, the film’s conclusion is unsatisfying.

I was especially bothered by the conclusion to MacKewice’s storyline. When he is confronted by all of the different people he’s encountered throughout the day through one embarrassing event after another, he makes no effort to explain himself, which he could do quite easily. Instead, he runs, leading into a rather silly chase sequence. I’m nit-picking here, but it was an example of a writer’s trick that just doesn’t work for me.

This issue is compounded by the fact that the story is not even resolved in any fashion, which I found to be the most bothersome part of the film.

The DVD has a few good features for a low-budget digital film, including an audio commentary by the film’s director, Rob Reilly, which has some pretty good information about how he made the film. There’s also a “Making of a Scene” doc that is informative, as well. But I’d avoid the “Happy Accidents” video, which sounds much better in the movie.

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