The heavily hyped and boisterously ballyhooed Arizona-made independant film ‘Durant’s Never Closes’ premiered in downtown Phoenix at the Renaissance hotel last Thursday night to a sold out crowd. The latest feature from Running Wild Films and director Travis Mills, ‘Durant’s’ is a pseudo-biopic film about Phoenix restaurateur Jack Durant and his legendary persona that allegedly includes mob ties, misogyny and general meanness. The film is loosely based on Mabel Leo’s book ‘The Saga of Jack Durant’ and the play ‘In My Humble Opinion’ by Terry Earp.
Jack Durant (Tom Sizemore) sits on a bar stool at his self-named Phoenix restaurant reading Shakespeare when a shipment of rancid beef arrives and Jack rejects it, dumping the entire contents into his own parking lot and angrily demanding that the supplier come pick it up. He returns to his bar stool and yammers to a mysterious, shadowy cowboy seated next to him; unsuccessfully regaling him with tales of his badassedry and bragging about all of the customers he’s thrown out of the joint. The potential foundation for a fantastical, fun, fearsome and maybe even freaky Phoenix film is loosely laid out, but immediately laid waste by the twitching, jerking and sweating Sizemore. Whether the real Durant was truly as unhinged and bananas as Sizemore portrays is irrelevant, as the star of the film takes off on his own, muddling through the production with a drooling, spastic and often incomprehensible performance.
The film presents a moderately well photographed collection of disjointed movie scenes haphazardly pasted together; as several intense and historically momentous incidents in Phoenix history are casually (and quite cheaply) tossed onto the screen without regard to plot or story. Some scenes include: The 1976 car bomb assassination of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles (Michael Hanelin) whom Jack overhears in his restaurant, conversations with washed up baseball great Dizzy Dean (Jon Gries) who keeps hitting up Jack for free booze, and an endless parade of unsavory characters whom Jack throws out of his establishment. After a violent home invasion (which actually did happen) Jack is left unconsciousness, and slips into an embarrassingly lame dream sequence in the desert, where he plays baseball with Dizzy, is surrounded by blood covered plastic flamingo’s and observes (what is probably) Gus Greenbaum and his wife as they die a gruesome death. After awakening, the loosely bound (with his hands behind his back) Jack picks up the receiver and dials the touch tone phone (in 1963?) with his tongue. Jack reminisces with his ex-wife Susie (Michelle Stafford) when she appears somehow or other, sexually harasses his secretary (Stacie Stocker), threatens customers and employees and continually trashes his own restaurant in order to preserve its good name (???).
Talented sound designer James Alire comes through yet again, tackling the difficult task of capturing Sizemore’s incomprehensible mumbling and converting it into mildly discernible speech. The overall performances by the local cast help complete this collection of nescient nonsense, whereas the hired guns from Hollywood do little to really carry the film. If anything, the contrasting and awkward performances help guarantee what could have been a defining AZ indie its place in the staggering stack of forgettable fodder. If there are any serious props to dole out for this film, they should certainly go actor Jon Gries for his portrayal of the alcoholic baseball player Dizzy Dean. Gries takes what was probably written as a comical character in this ponderously pedestrian script, and turns it into a tragically pathetic persona, bringing to the screen a mildly moving presentation of a broken man and not merely a Hollywood-style personal performance.
With ‘Durant’s Never Closes,’ director Mills has taken the intense, powerful, shocking and colorful moments that define Phoenix and has reduced them to mere plug-and-play anecdotes. Unable to weave the city’s fascinating history into any kind of watchable narrative, Mills has once again glommed upon a captivating, intriguing topic only to present it with the all the zeal of a dilettante; an exhibition of what Mill’s knows and what we supposedly don’t. ‘Durant’s Never Closes’ is currently screening at the Harkins Shea 14 Theatre in Scottsdale.
Final Take – Check please!