Spine Film

Things to do in Denver when you're Dead (1995)

Christopher Walken with a line from the movie, I'm a criminal; my word don't mean dick!, in a speech bubble

The film ventures into the microcosm of a squalid gangster food chain, but it is one energized continually by black humor. Reformed gangster Jimmy "the Saint" Tosnia is coerced into a kidnap attempt by his former boss, the wheelchair bound "Man with the Plan". The latter wants his son's ex-girlfriend to resume her affections, so her partner needs to be persuaded to give her up. The son, Bernard, is deviating since she left him, and this is the proposed solution. Assembling a crew of caricature hoodlums, Jimmy makes out-of-practice errors of judgment. The boyfriend is supposed to escape with a warning, but both he and the girl are killed. This leads to Jimmy and his associates being pursued by hit-man Mister Shhh on the orders of the boss.

Jimmy's legitimate business is concerned with making videos in which people express their final thoughts for those who survive them, and fragments of these are selectively intercut at various junctures. Intended to be messages from one generation to the next about the kind of ideals that should be carried forward, few are optimistic, or edifying. They generally address either the futility or disappointment of life from the perspective of someone at the end of it. Jimmy too reaches the point he would rather die than be forced to run and hide from a demented tyrant. Perceiving Bernard to be the cause of the chain of events that afflicts him, he resolves to interrupt the only succession the boss could enjoy. He wants to end the pattern of corrupt advantage Bernard stands to inherit.

Trying to extract some justice in the process, he wants to change things for his own potential heir, being carried by a prostitute he tries to protect. His video message to the unborn child is aspirational and tender. A reaction to corruption is made in full awareness of the consequences. It is a sacrifice for a principle.

Some distracting bathos is generated by Jimmy's desperate will to preserve his opportunity for straight success and romance with love interest Dagney, but the odd dialogue, and atypical storyline makes this a compelling movie. Of especial interest is the phrase "give it a name" as it accentuates the practices for which the gangsters definitely do have a name.

Prizewinning review originally published on the Find DVD website in July 2005

Directed by Gary Fleder

Copyright © Spine Film 2016

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Photo credit: File:Christopher Walken - 1984.jpg (public domain)

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