American Cousins

Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Danni Nucci, Shirley Henderson, Gerald Lepkowski, Vincent Pastore
Director: Don Coutts

It’s called AMERICAN COUSINS and is set in Glasgow but all the clues as to the cultural heritage of the main characters of this film are present in the cliche overload of the opening scenes: opera music is playing, fanciful ice cream is being served, and a pair of wise guys produce guns from under overcoats to lay waste to rival (not-so) wise guys. Badda-bing. The basic premise derives from the fact that large numbers of Italians emigrated to either America or Scotland in the late nineteenth century. In this instance one male relative chose Glasgow to settle and another plumped for New York. A century later and the Glaswegian’s descendant, Roberto (Gerald Lepkowski), is in charge of the family cafe; whilst his American cousins’ Gino (Danny Nucci) and Settimo (Dan Hedaya) work for New Jersey mob boss Tony (Vincent Pastore).

Following a double-cross by members of the Ukrainian mafia Gino and Settimo need to take refuge somewhere quiet and so they travel to Scotland to stay with cousin Roberto, who thus finds himself afflicted by a welter of problems. As well as his ongoing concerns about the health of his elderly grandfather, his unrequited love for helium voiced cafe employee Alice (Shirley Henderson), and the intimidating visits of a local loan shark’s bruisers, he now has to contend with the attentions of a pair of outrageously caricatured Scouse hitmen hired to do the Ukrainian’s dirty work.

Despite featuring four different groups of characters for whom violence is a way of life AMERICAN COUSINS is a surprisingly warm-hearted comic drama. The majority of the film is concerned with the growing relationships within the central quartet of Roberto, Shirley, Gino, and Settimo. The brash enthusiasm of Gino and the thoughtful avuncular nature of Settimo help the usually withdrawn Roberto to grow in confidence. Once as soft as his own ice cream he develops some of the self-assuredness of his trans-Atlantic relatives and gradually comes to believe that his pipe dreams of romance and success can become reality.

This is an unostentatious well-rounded film: scenes of the growing bonhomie between the main characters are punctuated by the menace of the hitmen and loan sharks gradually closing in on the cafe. But sentiment and violence are mostly kept in check and it is the enthusiasm and ability of an ungilded cast and crew that makes the strongest impression. There are some moments of visual hyperbole which could have been more subtly scripted (e.g. the ‘cavalry to the rescue’ sudden appearance of a whole chapter of the Noo Joisey mob late on) but, in its own simple way, the unheralded and uncomplicated AMERICAN COUSINS is a nice antidote to the many misfiring blockbusters that cinema audiences have had to endure this year.

4 out of 6 stars

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