2 Days in the Valley
Screenplay : John Herzfeld
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Danny Aiello (Dosmo Pizzo), Greg Cruttwell (Allan Hopper), Jeff Daniels (Alvin Strayer), Teri Hatcher (Becky Foxx), Glenne Headly (Susan Parish), Peter Horton (Roy Foxx), Marsha Mason (Audrey Hopper), Paul Mazursky (Teddy Peppers), James Spader (Lee Woods), Eric Stoltz (Wes Taylor), Charlize Theron (Helga)
John Herzfeld's "2 Days in the Valley" starts out with great promise, hits a peak near the middle, and then comes unraveled in the last third. The smart and invigorating plot contains a handful of clever surprises, but it only sustains itself for about two/thirds of the film. It's as if Herzfeld was feeling inspired until he got down to the last act where he had to tie up all the loose ends, and then he got lazy and just slapped something together.
Otherwise, "2 Days in the Valley" is a fun movie, not just the Quentin Tarantino-knockoff too many critics have labeled it as. Scores of filmmakers made smart films about criminals before Tarantino rocked the world with "Pulp Fiction," so I find it a bit unfair to label every new entry into the crime genre as a Tarantino wannabe. However, I can see how some people would immediately view "2 Days" as a minor "Pulp Fiction." Among the common traits, we have a plot of interlocking stories, a pair of bickering hitmen, an overly ambitious professional athlete, a hip San Fernando Valley setting, and Eric Stoltz (although here he plays a cop instead of a drug dealer).
To outline the plot here would ruin the movie because every detail has significance, and I'm afraid of giving something away. I can tell you that the focal point of the film is a murder by slick, professional hitman Lee Woods (James Spader) and Dosmo Pizzo (Danny Aiello), his somewhat soft-hearted partner who has just come out of retirement. The hit seems to come off perfectly, but as usual, there's much more than meets the eye. The victim is a squirrley man named Roy Foxx (Peter Horton), and he is shot while in bed with ex-wife Becky (Teri Hatcher of TV's "Lois and Clark and owner of one of the best bodies in film).
Through a series of conveniences, contrivances, and plain bad luck, a whole cast of characters winds up being involved in this murder, including two vice squad cops (a very scruffy-looking Jeff Daniels and a very clean-cut Eric Stoltz), a suicidially depressed movie director (real-life director Paul Mazursky), an extremely smug and wimpish British art dealer who recently passed a kidney stone (Greg Cruttwell), his homely assistant (Glenne Headly), and his sister (Marsha Mason). Oh, and did I mention Spader's bombshell Norwegian lover, Helga (newcomer Charlize Theron)?
On paper, this sounds like a potential mess, but Herzfeld (who has spent the last 14 years working in TV after making his directorial debut with the forgettable John Travolta-Olivia Newton John vehicle "Two of a Kind") manages to make an interesting and lively script out of all these characters, carefully placing them at crucial plot points so they can get in on or get wrapped up in the action. As Herzfeld introduces each new character, you keep thinking to yourself, "How on earth can this person possibly work into this plot?" Well, believe me when I say that everyone is important in one way or another, and even the slightest details have importance. This is the kind of a movie that can easily by ruined by a two minute trip to the bathroom.
All the performances are good, with nobody a real standout because "2 Days" is a classic example of ensemble acting -- no one character is any more important than another. This can be both an asset or a hindrance. Although the movie doesn't have to rely on one character to carry it through (ala Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump"), each role is important in its own right, so there are no throw-away characters (ala Robin Williams or Gerard Depardieu in "Hamlet").
One of this film's main strengths is that Herzfeld took the time to develop each character and his or her nuances. Whether that be the Aiello character's fear of dogs or the Mazursky character's use of his Emmy Award as a toilet paper holder, all the characters have little quirks and variations that make them come alive on the screen.
"2 Days in the Valley" is witty and bracing in its own right, and it shouldn't be buried under extraneous comparisons to "Pulp Fiction." Herzfeld has taken a genre and worked it into his own, keeping the points he wants, and discarding the others (for example, there's a noticeable lack of drug use in this movie, a normal staple of the crime genre). It's a fun movie while you're watching it, and in some ways it's even more fun to look back on in hindsight, reconstructing how everything precisely fit together.
Copyright 1997 James Kendrick