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City By the Sea Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/05/2002

September is usually a dumping ground for Hollywood. September of 2002 seems to be a virtual junkyard. Movies this month are ranging from just okay to horribly bad. It’s a shame that Robert De Niro is in one of the "okay" movies, City By the Sea.

City By the Sea is the story of Manhattan police detective Vincent LaMarca (De Niro), a man who seems to live a routine life. He gets up every day, does his job, walks his girlfriend Michelle (Frances McDormand) home from work, spends some time with her, then goes to bed. One day on his job a body washes up on shore. He has a fatal knife wound in his chest, some defensive wounds in his hands, a big wad of cash, and a driver’s license. The license is that of a guy who goes by the name of Picasso (Jay Boryea), a small-time drug dealer working in Long Beach (known as the "city by the sea.") Long Beach is Vincent’s hometown. It is also where his past is, including the memories of his executed child-murdering father, his ex-wife Maggie (Patti LuPone), and his junkie son Joey (James Franco.) After some investigating, and after a confession from another junkie who was at the scene of Picasso's murder, Snake (Brian Tarantina), he comes to find out that his son may have been the one who killed Picasso. With a murderer for a father and a son, Vincent sees his routine life badly shaken and he struggles to deal with it.

The story is interesting, if a little far-fetched. It just seems way too much of a coincidence that a person can kill someone in Long Beach and then have it investigated by the killer’s father in Manhattan. I guess if we didn’t have coincidence, we wouldn’t have a story. The movie isn’t boring, but there was nothing in it that sucked me in.

Most of the performances in this movie were great though. De Niro did a great job as a man who has had a hard life and actually enjoys now being routine. McDormand didn’t really have much to do in this movie, but the little that she did wasn’t bad. Franco continues to be excellent as a tortured figure, which actually concerns me. The lightest thing I have seen him in was as Daniel Desario in the forever-to-be-mourned TV show by geeks, "Freaks and Geeks." Even as Daniel, he was the tortured rebel freak. I really hope he can do something that will be a little lighter in the future, because he is one of my favorite newer actors and I want to see him stretch. Speaking of stretching, the movie also includes Eliza Dushku in her first role since gaining fame as Faith on the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" that didn’t require any physical work. She plays Gina, the girlfriend of Joey who is trying to go straight after a bad stint in drugs. There is no cheerleading! flips or vampire slaying here, and she proves she can do it without the physical action.

The only performance that was under par was that of William Forsythe, who plays Spyder, a man whom Joey owes money to. He overacts in this movie, and badly. He was the most annoying part of the otherwise underrated cancelled NBC action show "UC: Undercover," playing a cliched bad guy Sonny Walker. Fortunately, although he is an important character in the story, he isn’t a huge character that gets a lot of screen time.

To wrap it up…great performances, mediocre movie. The end of this month is when they start rolling out movies that are considered Oscar contenders. Even though City By the Sea isn’t boring, it isn’t anything special, and by no means an Oscar contender. Looks like we have a couple more weeks until we are out of the junkyard!

Get the original score soundtrack composed by John Murphy:

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Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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