King of the Corner

Leo Spivak (Peter Riegert) is Jewish, middle aged, regularly visits his aged father (Eli Wallach) in an Arizona nursing home and, unknown to Leo, is training his replacement as a market researcher in “King of the Corner.”

Laura's Review: C

Leo Spivak (Cowriter/director/star Peter Riegert, "Local Hero") is beginning to succumb to an onslaught of life's daily pressures. His office protege seems to be angling for his job, his only daughter is defying his rules, his dad is going downhill hundreds of miles away and he has compromised his marriage for the first time. Leo Spivak is finding it more and more difficult to maintain his grasp as "King of the Corner." Peter Riegert's immense likability factor does much to carry "King of the Corner, just as it must be responsible for attracting such an intriguing ensemble, but Riegert's directorial debut is a clunky affair of amateurish, ploddingly edited visuals and suspect story lines which weaken it almost beyond repair. It's like watching a beloved family member tank at a talent show. Things start off promisingly, with Leo expertly running a focus group for the Flaxman account which produces a telephone voice transformer modeled on Gregory Peck. He considers this account 'Beluga' compared to some of the products he's had to endure, like the spray on pasta sauce whose chunks of tomato and garlic constantly clogged the nozzle. Wife Rachel (Isabella Rossellini, "The Saddest Music in the World," "Heights") is upset over their loss of control with sixteen year old daughter Elena (Ashley Johnson, "What Women Want"), who responds like Pavlov's dog to the honking of boyfriend Todd's (Cal Robertson, "Zero Day") horn. Leo spends every other weekend flying to Arizona, where his dad, Sol (Eli Wallach, "Mystic River") complains about a life spend busting his ass at a stinking job while he waits to die, despite the visits of still stunning girlfriend Inez (Rita Moreno, "Casa de los babys"). Leo displays his business savvy, jockeying with Stan Marshack (Dominic Chianese, HBO's "The Sopranos") over the two thousand dollar surcharge to Sol's prepaid funeral arrangements. Things begin to go sharply downhill when Riegert must show outside forces making Leo's behavior turn bad ("King of the Corner" was cowritten with Gerald Shapiro, adapting his "Bad Jews and Other Stories"). Leo's shocked to discover that his assistant Ed (Jake Hoffman, "I Heart Huckabees") has presented one of his ideas to immediate higher-up Berenson (Frank Wood, "People I Know") in his absence, but Ed never seems to bear Leo any type of ill will. In fact, Ed's just a normally ambitious kid who is upset that Leo might be mad at him. The same problem dogs Elena, an even-tempered sixteen year old whose 'out-of-control' descriptor seems overwrought. The fact that she needs Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," an overly obvious metaphor for Sol and Leo alike, explained to her, is far more cause for alarm. Riegert really lets his film get away from him when a bout of on-the-road rage drinking (we only know Leo is alcohol impaired by Ed's comment about a fifth vodka and tonic) and chance meeting with high school crush Betsy (Beverly D'Angelo, "Vegas Vacation") makes Leo not only a cheater, but a manic, babbling confessor to the husband (Peter Friedman, "Paycheck") he's cuckolded. The film only marginally recovers from this midsection and its largely unfounded, or at least overly exaggerated, character motivations, with Sol's unexpected death (elderly care operations manager Kathleen (Judy Reyes, TV's "Scrubs") has the unenviable task of relating yet another crudely obvious metaphor for Sol's life in how he died). The third act is all about Leo's redemption, and Riegert certainly makes the road back more believable than the downfall. The film's title is explained within Leo's defensive Kaddish recital, an emotional tribute to his dad in response to the undiplomatic words of Rabbi Evelyn Fink (Eric Bogosian, "Heights"). In coming to terms with his relationship to Sol, Leo gains the strength to fight for his career, Elena's respect and his marriage. There's little to complain about in the acting on display here, except, perhaps, for the severely underwritten roles shouldered by D'Angelo and Friedman. Riegert has always had a wry, unflappable quality, a steadfast calm enlivened with a humorous twinkle, that he has been able to work as a Texas oilman, a 1930's gangster or a lovestruck pickle vendor, but "King of the Corner" is the story of a man losing his grip and betraying those around him in the process. That Riegert the actor doesn't lose us, even when Riegert the screenwriter leaves him in quicksand, is admirable, but he's further undermined by Riegert the director and the film's budget. Most of the action is covered by maybe two camera shots at best, often a two-shot and another two-shot at a forty-five degree angle from the first or a close-up reaction shot. A tracking shot disrupted by a noticeable camera bump remains and a climatic scene, where I'm sure Leo's bosses Hargrove (Harris Yulin, "The Emperor's Club") and Berenson are supposed to look demonic, merely looks badly lit (cinematography by Mauricio Rubinstein, editing by Mario Ontal, both of "Casa de los babys"). "King of the Corner" has its heart in the right place and has obviously engendered good will from the artistic community, but the film is neither insightful nor funny enough. Fans of Peter Riegert should take note if for no other reason than to hopefully praise the strides he has taken with his next project.

Robin's Review: C

Actor Peter Riegert makes his directing debut with a story he co-wrote with Gerald Shapiro about a 50-something non-practicing Jewish guy who is dealing with his long distance father, a problem teenage daughter and the distinct possibility of losing his job to a youngster half his age. He garners the efforts of a star-studded cast to tell what is only a shallow, hard to embrace story. Riegert employs such notable actors as Isabella Rossellini (as his wife Rachel), Eric Bogosian (as a schlemiel rabbi), Eli Wallach (as Leo’s father Sol), Rita Moreno (as Sol’s girlfriend Inez), Beverly D’Angelo (as Leo’s high school heartthrob Betsy) and veteran character actor Harris Yulin (as Leo’s boss). But, the cast can’t overcome the lightweight, scattershot script. The story follows Leo’s fall and rise as he contends with a younger man, Ed (Jake Hoffman), who is covertly conniving to take his mentor’s job. He must also deal with the mortality of his Father and the rebellious nature of his daughter Elena (Ashley Johnson). And, Leo must face the results of a bad decision when, while on a business trip, he has a one nightstand with Betsy (D’Angelo). Peter Riegert’s likeability is a key factor in making me want to embrace “King of the Corner.” The actor was one of the key players as one of the rowdy frat boys in “Animal House” and was key among the many reasons that “Local Hero” is still one of my all-time favorite films. He really cemented his likeability quotient as the charming pickle seller in the sweet romance, Crossing Delancey,” opposite Amy Irving. With this track record I went into “King of the Corner” really rooting Riegert’s debut helming effort. After a decent start, with Leo leading a focus group demonstrating a voice altering phone system that makes a woman’s telephone voice sound like Gregory Peck (voice of Steve Landsberg (Detective Dietrich from TV’s “Barney Miller)), things get messy. Leo’s job problems are watered down with his child rearing problems (Elana, supposedly a problem child, comes across as a together young lady), Sol’s pending, inevitable death and Leo’s mid-life crisis. All of these issues diminish the film’s focus, making any empathy one might have diluted by too many storylines. I went into “King of the Corner” fully expecting to like the film on the strength of Riegert’s charisma. It’s unfortunate that these expectations were sorely unmet. The story should have kept it’s focus on the midlife crisis but tried to cover too much ground without exploring any fully. I sadly have to say