2 Days in the Valley is a bustling stew of lowlifes, high rollers and people teetering somewhere in the middle. It's a slap-chic comedy that gamely follows the lead of Robert Altman's Short Cuts and Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon as complex multi-character exercises for a bunch of solid, unselfish actors.
John Herzfeld's movie isn't as serious or righteous as those previous films. Without a "message," the gimmick of coincidence in having 14 desperate people crossing paths over a 48-hour period loses some punch. 2 Days in the Valley is a movie of the moment; not one to be treasured, but fun to watch while it's flickering on screen.
Herzfeld neatly lays out his plot threads, beginning with a puzzling contract murder at the hands of sadistic Lee Woods (James Spader) and burned-out pro Dosmo Pizzo (Danny Aiello). Within minutes we meet a suicidal film director (real-life filmmaker Paul Mazursky), a priggish art dealer (Greg Cuttiwell) and his neurotic assistant (Glenne Headly) and two detectives with opposite career ideals (Jeff Daniels and Eric Stoltz).
Tying these plot threads together into a cohesive storyline takes time, but Herzfeld and his actors have such fun portraying loopy Southern California types that it's a worthwhile wait. ' 2 Days in the Valley bases its humor on call-back comedy; some idiosyncrasy or vague act now will be part of a punchline later. Some jokes are based on the comedy of proximity; characters vaguely meet, unaware of each other, but we know who they are and we laugh. That's a sign of smart, alluring filmmaking.
Herzfeld gives his characters the sort of idiosyncrasies that have become common in these post-Pulp Fiction days, some more creative than others. On the positive side: Spader's assassin toys with his victims with a stopwatch, and Aiello is a sweetly dangerous bundle of blusterous insecurity. Less original are Teri Hatcher as an Olympic skier (although it sets up a bitter sign-off joke for the film) and the good-cop, bad-cop banter between Stoltz and Daniels.
Some actors simply overpower the weaknesss of the script with energetic performances: Mazursky's prideful Teddy Peppers, and British actor Greg Cuttiwell getting his smug comeuppance. There isn't a weak performance in the cast, only too-familiar ones resulting from the script's limitations.
Then again, Herzfeld is bright enough to resist drawing more attention to the unbelievable circumstances of his plot with one simple decision: He doesn't try to bring all of the characters together for a slam-bang finale as other filmmakers might. Our attention to one key player ends early and appropriately, while another sneaks out of our consciousness until a sight-gag farewell. 2 Days in the Valley is a neatly folded piece of cinematic quirk.
MOVIE REVIEW: B+
2 Days in the Valley
Director: John Herzfeld
Cast: Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, James Spader, Eric Stoltz, Teri Hatcher, Glenne Headly, Marsha Mason, Paul Mazursky
Screenplay: John Herzfeld
Rating: R; violence, profanity, sexual situations
Running time: 91 min.