2 Days in the Valley
directed by John Herzfeld
(MGM, 1996)

2 Days in the Valley could be a first: A Hollywood disaster film without a disaster.

It features a disaster-film-style ensemble cast -- Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Greg Cruttwell, Teri Hatcher, Glenne Headly, Marsha Mason, Paul Mazursky, James Spader, Eric Stoltz and Peter Horton, to name a few -- and a disaster-film-style set of characters -- an out-of-work hit man, an overwrought vice cop, a stressed-out salesman, an almost-champion skier, an under-appreciated girl Friday, an over-achieving nurse, a washed-up film director, a stuck-on-himself assassin, a would-be detective and a sub-human husband -- each with his or her disaster-film-style problem.

Together they populate a locale worthy of a disaster film, California's San Fernando Valley, on the hottest day of the year.

Yet the earth never trembles, even if the film's most likely principals do fall in love, and no big boat goes down, though the film may leave you with a sinking feeling.

The film's problems begin very early, even before the camera has a chance to fade in. Over a blank screen we hear hit men Lee Woods (Spader) and Dosmo Pizzo (Aiello) discussing both their assignment and Dosmo's problem: he's been out of work for a long time, apparently with good reason.

But before we're sure what's coming down, we cut away to another character with the same problem, Hollywood writer-director Teddy Peppers, played by Hollywood writer-director Paul Mazursky. The award-winning Pepper hasn't worked since his last bomb, Lights Out, and it doesn't take a genius to divine that he's getting ready to put his own lights out.

Neither does it take a genius to figure out that he won't, at least not until he crosses paths with at least half-a-dozen of the over-and-under-the-hill gang from "the valley."

That happens because Woods (Spader) decides to double-cross his partner (Aiello), who outsmarts Woods and escapes to the estate of the salesman (Cruttwell), who just happens to be suffering from an attack of kidney stones. There Dosmo sets up his escape and cooks a spaghetti dinner, both of which are interrupted by the arrival of the nurse (Mason) and director (Mazursky), who met in the cemetery where Pepper was planning to blow his brains out.

Meanwhile, the overwrought vice cop (Daniels) and the would-be detective (Eric Stoltz) have discovered the murder of the subhuman husband (Horton), in which the almost-champion skier (Hatcher) should be the prime suspect but isn't.

Had 2 Days in the Valley been made before Pulp Fiction, it might have been a real breakthrough film, full of quirky characters, hairpin plot twists, off-the-wall dialogue and a slightly wicked ending. As it is, it offers much to ponder and little reward for figuring it out.

This is one Hollywood film that could have used a disaster.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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