One from the Vault: ‘Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead’

In the wake of ‘Pulp Fiction’ comes this 1995 pseudo-noir gangster flick directed by Gary Felder (‘Kiss the Girls’, ‘Runaway Jury’ and the occasional TV gig). The script was written by Scott Rosenberg, who, in my opinion, has had more misses (‘Kangaroo Jack’, ‘Con Air’, ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’) than hits (‘High Fidelity’). However, ‘Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead’ is a tightly written and directed piece that never gets lazy and is definitely more hit than miss.

While it would be hard to call this an “all-star cast,” the line-up is certainly the highlight of this film. From Christopher Walken to Christopher Lloyd, and from Andy Garcia to Steve Buscemi, all turn in performances you’ve come to expect. The cast is rounded out by the likes of William Forsythe, Treat Williams, Bill Nunn, Jack Warden, Fairuza Balk, Gabrielle Anwar, Bill Cobbs, Marshall Bell, Glenn Plummer, Jenny McCarthy (sorta) and Don Cheadle. Yeah, it’s a pretty nice ensemble.

Regardless of what seems like everyone’s best effort, the movie really does play out like second-rate David Mamet. The setup is more interesting then the payoff, with the cost of entry being the amount of clichés and other bits that probably seemed more noteworthy when you saw them the first time around in other films. Interestingly, the movie has even borrowed its title from somewhere else, Warren “Werewolves of London” Zevon’s tune of the same name. This isn’t to say that it isn’t worth checking out. If for nothing else, you get to see the fine work of the actors listed above. Just know that you won’t be getting the tight twists and turns you might find in other, better, gangster and crime flicks.

Jimmy the Saint (Andy Garcia) has given up his wicked gangster ways in favor of an entrepreneurial venture called “Afterlife Advice,” where the dying can record thoughtful answers to life’s difficult questions for their surviving children and grandchildren. Business is not good. Jimmy is summoned by his old crime boss to do one last job. Of course, he’s forced to do it by the fact that “The Man with the Plan” (Walken) is holding his business’ bank note. Jimmy gathers up some of his old crew, most of whom seem to have left their criminal pasts behind as well. The introductions of the characters are my favorite part of this film, so I won’t spoil them for you. Needless to say, something goes wrong with the job. The question of what to do next brings this quiet little movie to its interesting end.

Sure, there are better mobster-esque films out there, but the cast makes this one worth your time. Streamed in HD, it looks as good as a film its age can look without restoration. There’s hardly any grain or picture noise, and the picture has finely saturated colors and mostly consistent flesh tones. Blacks are a tad murky but solid, and detail is perfectly acceptable. While not the finest HD presentation, it’s a good streaming effort.

If you don’t have the out-of-print DVD and want to spend a couple of hours watching some entertaining acting, you can find it here.

If you’re so inclined, here is a slightly spoilerific trailer:

Catalog titles are still playing catch-up on Blu-ray, and out of print DVDs are getting hard to find. Luckily, there’s Netflix. “One From the Vault” is a recurring feature exploring the wide selection of movies that the Netflix Instant Streaming service has to offer that are out of print, unavailable, or just hard to find in other formats.

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