After three decades as an engaging character actor, Robert Davi makes his directorial debut with The Dukes, an indie crafted with considerably more heart than skill. Davi’s low-budget film involves the efforts of former ’60s doo-wop crooners Danny (Davi) and George (Chazz Palminteri) to make some money by pilfering gold from a dentist office safe. It’s a dim-bulb plan motivated by financial concerns—both work for their Aunt Vee (Miriam Margolyes) in the kitchen of her Los Angeles Italian restaurant—as well as by random, bizarre antipathy toward dentists, who have saddled Davi with an enormous bill regarding his young son’s treatment and stuck George with an ugly, yellow temporary tooth. This anti-dentite sentiment seems out of leftfield for a story ostensibly about once-popular singers trying to subsist on the meager gigs (such as degrading TV commercials) provided by their incompetent manager Lou (Peter Bogdanovich), but inconsistency is the guiding principle here, with Davi—scoring most of the action to classic doo-wop hits—unable to properly balance his bumbling plot’s humor and drama. The normally villainous Davi reveals a more sensitive side and Palminteri is moderately amusing as a ladies man with a preference for hefty gals. Yet from its feeble drug-related comedy and even weaker heist machinations, to Danny’s cornball father-son relationship, to an early “What about me?” speech by Danny’s ex-wife (Melora Hardin) that may be the most clichéd, phony bit of dialogue heard in a theater all year, The Dukes is tepid, slapdash and trivial, a personal passion project that mainly seems content—with good reason, given its slightness—to have simply been made in the first place.
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