Amongst Friends(New Line Home Entertainment, 2.15.2005)
What ever happened to Rob Weiss? For a moment there, he was the next big thing and even a media staple during his troubled relationship with Shannen Doherty. Twelve years and a few producing credits (American Psycho, Punk'd, Entourage) later, he still hasn't directed another film. Anyone who's read John Pierson's "Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes" will remember stories of Weiss' ridiculous behavior and troubling claims that he slept on set (while the cameras were rolling, no less!), and took credit for the work of others.
At this point, I cannot understand how this pedestrian film ever made a splash at the '93 Sundance Film Festival. Yes, Weiss' directorial debut/retirement film Amongst Friends was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. But, instead of Grand Jury caliber filmmaking, we get amateur attempts at style over substance.
Three upper class Long Island kids grow up bored and lacking respect so they do what any kid would do in the same situation: get into a life of petty crime. It all begins innocently with a little sports gambling, a little fisticuffs, a little pot smoking/dealing, etc. and (naturally) escalates to higher forms of wheelin' and dealin'.
One fateful night, one of the three buddies gets arrested -- for selling a large quantity of pot -- by two undercover cops disguised as buyers. He serves two years then hits the road for another two and, finally, returns home to revisit the love of his life, Mira Sorvino. Nowadays (the 90s), one of the three friends is a big time gangster (see), the other his underappreciated lackey.
The lackey and the ex-con decide to make a little criminal operation/heist of their own, which goes well until they wake up the next morning with guns pointed at their heads. In turn, they wind up working for the club-owning gangster they ripped off (he used to be pals with the lackey's grandfather). Everyone is indeed good pals. Or are they? Are they really...amongst friends?
Not too soon after, a hackneyed love-triangle enters the mix, and we have now reached painfully cliche territory. And yes, there's a body count. Having characters as depthless as the insert used to decorate this DVD doesn't help matters any.
Weiss' assumed directing contributions don't fare too well either. The direction is flat-out unoriginal and oftentimes completely shallow. From the score to the lighting, the film is so obvious it's almost embarrassing. There's this annoying coolness and nonchalance to the whole exercise in senseless criminal stupidity that just about praises the criminal lifestyle.
Unlike a film such as (I know, it's a huge stretch) Mean Streets, all that seems to matter in Weiss' film is that there's a trendy soundtrack and some flashy cinematography. This may work in the case of said talented director but Scorsese at least backs it up with depth, logic, and sincerity. Plus, Mean Streets is incomparably superior, formally (and thematically) speaking.
Maybe I'm being a little too hard here but I do find it irritating that this film actually received so much critical praise. I'm not calling it a complete waste of time and effort, it's just flat and half-baked. If Weiss did direct this film, then it was a somewhat tolerable starting point. I don't think he should have been run out of Hollywood or anything.
Perhaps he could've fine-tuned his craft and even ended up with a half decent second feature. Oh well, at least we've got Entourage and American Psycho (which is ultimately good only because original director Weiss didn't roll any film). Can't say the same about Punk'd, though.
There is one positive aspect to this release, however. The DVD sports a very nice transfer (1.85:1 anamorphic) and good audio (in 5.1 or unnecessary DTS).
Back to the bad: there are no extras. It would've been interesting to see an interview with Weiss but that's clearly asking way too much. I really would've liked to hear him defend this film and the accusations of him sleeping on the set. We do get the film's trailer, three other New Line trailers, and some weblinks.
For those who are curious, I advise a rental. But DO NOT buy this DVD. There are one or two moments that make Amongst Friends almost worth its 88 minute running time -- thank God it's only 88 minutes, less if you skip the end credits -- but, in the end, you may still want that hour and 28/26 minutes back. -- Neil Karassik