DVD Review: “Small Time” Has Big Heart

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Review by James McDonald

A young man decides to skip college in favor of joining his father on the lot of his used-car business.

“Small Time” tells the story of two best friends, Al (Christopher Meloni) and Ash (Dean Norris), who are also the co-owners of Diamond Motors, a used car lot in downtown Covina. When Al’s son Freddy (Devon Bostick) graduates high school, his mother Barb (Bridget Moynahan) and wealthy step-father Chick (Xander Berkeley) have already lined him up for college at California Polytechnic State University but at the last minute, Freddy changes his mind and decides that he doesn’t want to go to college but instead, move in with his father and get a job at his lot selling cars. He figures why go through years of university when he can start living in the real world immediately. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with his mother and Chick but seeing that he’s 18 years of age and old enough to make his own decisions, there’s really nothing they can do about it.

Freddy observes Al and Ash as they mingle with potential customers and digests their impressive sales pitches. He starts out in cringe-worthy fashion but gradually, he establishes himself as a top salesman within the company. As he becomes more and more successful though, his whole persona changes and he develops an arrogant overconfidence that his father begins to loathe. He starts ridiculing the office secretary and the lot’s mechanic at which point Al reluctantly decides to let him go, telling him that there’s just not enough money to be shared amongst the sales staff. Freddy storms out and eventually re-enrolls at Cal Poly and for a while, things are tense between the two but ultimately, Freddy thanks him for teaching him the tricks of the trade and knows that the reason he let him go, was so he could take the time to decide as to what he really wanted. And university was it.

I find in many indie dramas, there’s always an overabundance of unnecessary melodrama but with “Small Time”, director Joel Surnow handles the story with considerable restraint. There are some emotional moments but thankfully, Surnow has assembled such a diverse and accomplished cast that they perform their roles with great assuredness. Mr. Meloni is probably best known for his role as Detective Elliot Stabler in TV’s “Law & Order” but here, to his credit, he underplays his part which can be a big gamble in a movie and it pays off. The scene in which he has to let his son go, is heartbreaking but Mr. Meloni and Mr. Bostick play the scene flawlessly. Mr. Norris, who is a terrific character actor, appearing in such films as “Lethal Weapon 2”, “Total Recall” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, has, more recently, become known to a new legion of fans as Hank Schrader, the brother in-law of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in “Breaking Bad”.

With that show, although he was still a supporting character, he was given a bigger opportunity to flex his acting abilities. For so long, Mr. Norris has always played the S.W.A.T. leader in movies or the D.E.A. or C.I.A. agent so watching him give a real heartfelt performance, was a joy to behold and I really hope he goes on to more starring roles in the future. The film’s director, Joel Surnow, who co-created the smash hit TV show, “24”, employed some of that shows actors in various roles throughout the movie. It was great watching them all together, including Mr. Norris, Xander Berkeley and an uncredited Gregory Itzin. “Small Time” won’t go down in the annals of film history as a classic but it should be remembered as an indie movie with first-rate performances and deft direction.

In stores June 3rd

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James McDonald
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