ZigZag (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film was the directorial debut of David S Goyer, who penned the two Blade movies. He was reunited with his designated action star, Wesley Snipes.

So what kind of movie is it? An escapist fantasy? A dark adventure? A shoot-em-up action picture?

It couldn't be farther from what you'd expect. It's a gentle urban tale about a mildly autistic kid with an abusive father. The dad (Snipes) is an addict who tells the 15 year old kid that he'll get an even worse beating than usual, and will also end up homeless, if he doesn't come up with the rent money. The kid is working as a dishwasher, and his ability to remember numbers helps him to open the restaurant safe and take out the nightly proceeds. He goes home with $9,000, which his dad promptly expropriates.

All of this is revealed to the kid's Big Brother (John Leguizamo), who genuinely cares for the boy. Leguizamo immediately realizes that he has to figure out a way to get the money back in that safe before the police figure out the whole thing. Unfortunately, the wastrel dad has already disposed of the money, and Leguizamo ends up borrowing the money from a loan shark.

The race is then on, as they attempt to return the money and undo the crime before the savvy detective can solve it.

Oliver Platt is on hand to provide comic relief as the asshole restaurant owner, a complex larger-than-life guy - smart and poetic, not without compassion, but drunken and abusive and racist, with hilarious and literate dialogue delivered in a comic-opera Confederate accent. Natasha Lyonne plays a compassionate prostitute who knows about the entire plot, but tries desperately to stay uninvolved.


There is a lot of toplessness, and the last dancer is quite attractive, was topless in good light, and had several lines, but I don't know who any of them are, including the pretty one with the dialogue.

There was one scene that brought me to tears. Lyonne asks the kid about his favorite day with his Big Brother, and she expects him to talk about Disneyland or something. The kid talks about the time that he and the Big Brother stole his dad's baseball bat, which was the weapon of choice for beatings. They took the bat to a bridge, and Big Brother let the kid throw it off the edge, then the two of them camped out under the bridge and ate hot dogs. The scene was turned into genius by the kid's recital of the story, followed by Lyonne's initial reaction and her immediate tough-ass return to character.

The ending was not without plenty of sadness, but I found it completely satisfactory emotionally, and realistic enough that I accepted it as a having been logically derived from the preceding action.

It is really a damned good movie which manages to be touching without ever stooping to any stirring speeches, swelling music, sappy sentimentalism, phony-baloney romance, convenient coincidences, or other Hollywood contrivances. The characters seem so real that you think you know them. Snipes had only a small part as the abusive dad, but he did his usual good job, and the rest of the case was really first-rate, especially the underrated Leguizamo and the kid.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • wide-screen format, but letterboxed, not anamorphically enhanced (1.85:1)

  • no meaningful features

IMDB voters score it a classic-level 7.6, it was a big hit at SXSW, and the few reviewers that saw it in brief NYC and LA trials generally liked it. So why did the studio dump it without any further marketing effort? Well, for one thing, I suppose the studio execs had about the same expectations that you and I had - Snipes + Goyer = big escapist action film. I reckon they were angling for a mass-market picture, and ended up with a heartfelt arthouse film. I suppose it was kind of a shock when they expected to see Blade 3 and saw Rainman 2 instead. I think they had no idea what to do with it, and frankly neither do I. The fact that I liked it doesn't mean I can see a way to market it. 'Tis a shame 

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. A touching small-market film, with a kind heart buried under street toughness. Very close to the "B" level, and I expect this writer/director to make good movies in the future.

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