Friday, June 7, 2013

Peter Falk and John Cassavettes as Mikey and Nicky

“Mikey, I’m in trouble,” Nicky (John Cassavettes) tells Mikey (Peter Falk) when calling him from the seedy hotel room in which he’s hiding out.

“I’m in trouble” should have been writer-director Elaine May's description of her situation concerning the 1976 film, Mikey and Nicky. May is said to have started the script in 1959, fourteen years before filming began in 1973. It spent several years in the editing room before Paramount released it, without hoopla, in December 1976. The movie never made it much beyond its initial New York engagement and was hard to find on television or video until Criterion put it out a few years back on DVD.

That title – Mikey and Nicky – doesn’t help. If your eyes quickly glance it in print, you might mistake Mikey for Mickey. After all, it rhymes with Nicky, and it’s famous as the name of that kid in the Life cereal commercial (“Give it to Mikey. He won’t eat it. He hates everything”).

Peter Falk plays Mikey who looks after his friend Nicky like a mother hen, though we later learn that that his motives have little to do with friendship. Arriving in Nicky’s hotel room and finding his friend disheveled and swearing that someone is out there waiting to kill him, Mikey takes him out to wander the streets. They ride the bus, stop at a theater to see a kung fu flick (which the theater marquee advertises as playing with The Laughing Policeman, a much better movie than this one), make a post-midnight visit to a cemetery, and ramble on in seemingly improvised dialogue.

Nicky is right. Someone is trying to kill him. Ned Beatty plays the hit man and we get occasional glimpses of him loading his gun, calling Nicky’s wife to learn his whereabouts, and, like the title characters, wandering about.

The dialogue is sometimes funny (“It’s very hard to talk to a dead person,” Nicky says when visiting his mother’s grave. “We have little in common”), but never meaningful enough to maintain interest.

Mikey and Nicky seems like little more than an excuse for Falk and Cassavettes to hang out together and let the viewer hang out with them. I always liked them both, but based on the evidence provided by Mikey and Nicky, their company was rather tedious without a decent script.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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