Rent Control

The New York character actor Joe Pesci ("I'm funny? How'ya mean, funny? You find me amusing?") is at his best when sniping, kibbitzing and wise-cracking from the edges of street-tough movies like Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Whenever the spotlight hits him, he gives a film a lift, a shot of texture. As leading man in The Super, though, there's just too much of him - too much shtick, too much ethnic flavor, too much screaming and shouting. To be fair, there would be too much of any leading man in this braying comedy.

How's this for weary formula? 1. Heartless second-generation slumlord Louie Kritski gets convicted of code violations. 2. Judge sentences him to four months of house arrest in his own rat-infested tenement. 3. Heartless slumlord is morally redeemed by the goodness of his downtrodden tenants.

Now, if we're not mistaken, this is just the kind of transformation enjoyed by self-important lawyer Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry, unfeeling heart surgeon William Hurt in The Doctor and greedy real estate magnate Mel Brooks in Life Stinks. Pesci's 90-minute conversion comes courtesy of the lame screenplay of Sam Simon (producer of The Simpsons and Taxi) and run-of-the-mill direction by Rod Daniel (Teen Wolf, K-9), whose noble intentions include presenting a crummy block in New York's Lower East Side as a winning collision of urban blight and moral light. Like everything else in the picture, including Pesci's blustery performance, the blight and light both seem to have leaped from the pages of a comic book. The building feels false; its residents are trivialized.

Meanwhile, a little revenge-of-the-underclass sitcom: We delight as Kritski has his new red Corvette ravaged at curbside, gets taken in a game of three-card monte, is flung around like a rag doll by neighborhood ball players three times his size, and is otherwise comically tormented by the denizens of a hell he helped create. Inevitably, they include a cute kid with a winning smile (Kenny Blank), a streetwise prince (Ruben Blades), and assorted tenement types from whom this buffoonish lout has much to learn.

Upon moving into scummy apartment 5C, Louie can glance into the bathtub and quip: "Hey, the rats have their own Jacuzzi." By the end, his eyes are great with enlightenment: Louie has become just one of the fellas. In turn, The Super is just one of the movies out there, a bit of noise from the 'hood.


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