They Wanna Be Millionaires! … The Hit Man Next Door

They Wanna Be Millionaires!

Of all the telephone invasions that disrupt my peace and threaten my sanity, none are more irritating than the bogus stockbrokers with endless ways of “investing” the money I already don’t have in the first place. These pests call frequently, offering a smorgasbord of get-rich schemes for hard-earned cash only a fool would part with. The brokerage houses they represent are mystery firms you won’t find in Dun & Bradstreet, commonly referred to in the trading market as “boiler rooms.” They are growing, and changing ZIP codes faster than the post office can keep up with them. The phenomenon is now interestingly and compellingly explored in a tight little movie called Boiler Room . It’s worth seeing, and it might save you some grief down the road toward financial ruin.

A first film by 27-year-old Brooklyn director Ben Younger, Boiler Room invades the whip-cracking, back-stabbing, aneurism-inducing world of wannabe Wall Street hustlers with an ice pick. The migration to boiler rooms by competitive, ambitious twentysomethings is considered a shortcut to Wall Street, the new realm of the testosterone bearers, and youth runs wild in a frenzy to ferry itself there by any means. For 19-year-old college dropout Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi), it’s a step up from running illegal blackjack games in his Queens apartment. No future in that, especially when your father is a judge (Ron Rifkin).

Desperate for approval and dreaming of becoming the next Microsoft millionaire, Seth falls under the spell of a cool, businesslike hustler in Armani suits (Ben Affleck) who recruits new talent for a shady Long Island brokerage firm run by preppy, good-looking, all-American Tom Everett Scott, a role model who rewards his brokers with prostitutes and cocaine. Before you can check the Nasdaq, Seth is up to his greedy eyeballs in a high-intensity racket, conning clients into investing in everything from burger chains to cancer pills. From a kiss-ass trainee, he works his way up to being a real player, but things fall apart when he discovers the firm is making its profits selling stocks for corporations that don’t exist.

By the time the F.B.I. moves in, endangering his father’s career and threatening him with a jail sentence, Seth turns the tables, sees the errors of his naïve ways, and learns one of life’s most valuable lessons: There’s no free lunch. Meanwhile, the movie winds up our nerves like the springs of a clock, and we’re counting the seconds along with our pulse. In this hip, fast-moving rap of a movie, Mr. Younger’s dialogue is smart, there are crackerjack performances by a grand-slam cast, and the effect is an impressive compilation canvas of American history lived in the moment of today. In this world, the capitalist gospel is taught with the fever pitch of a Hitler Youth rally and the future is in the hands of maniacs in rep ties and Brooks Brothers shirts who have all the money in the world but not a clue what to do with it.

Mr. Younger’s definition of a stockbroker is “a white boy’s way of slinging crack rock.” I know some of these wheelers and dealers. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing at all. What I find fascinating is that such a vibrant and entertaining movie could be made out of such a pathetic, mean-spirited way of life. It’s a bull market out there, and this movie has horns.

The Hit Man Next Door

In The Whole Nine Yards , Matthew Perry, the best actor in the cast of Friends , plays a miserable, unhappily married Montreal dentist named Oz Oseransky, whose life is one long painful root canal until Bruce Willis moves in next door.

The new neighbor turns out to be Jimmy (The Tulip) Tudeski, a hired killer with a mob contract on his head who picks this suburban Canadian neighborhood as a hideout. Oz’s shrewish, hateful wife, Sophie (Rosanna Arquette), promises him a lifetime of torture and abuse unless he goes to Chicago, looks up the mob and collects the reward. Instead, Oz falls for the hit man’s curvaceous, estranged wife, Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge) and, to save her life, tries to outsmart the underworld and keep the $10 million for their honeymoon–in other words, the whole nine yards.

Farcical complications ensue, resulting in several murders and numerous sight gags. Jimmy wants to ice Cynthia, Cynthia wants to ice Jimmy, Sophie wants to ice Oz, Oz’s dental hygienist Jill (Amanda Peet) sees contract killing as a new career with growth potential and starts icing the pursuing mobsters, and Oz tries to save them all from icing each other. It’s an inconsequential romp, mentioned only in passing, but The Whole Nine Yards is recommendable for Kevin Pollak’s hilarious impersonation of a vicious mobster with a speech impediment (“Sveet dweams, Yimmy!”) and for the goofy joy of watching Schmoo-like Mr. Perry, rubbery as pizza dough, in a nervous, nifty Lou Costello routine, doing pratfalls, slamming into glass doors, spilling martinis every time the phone rings, and falling face down on the verge of a nervous breakdown while Mr. Willis just stands around watching him steal the show.

Busting Balthazar

While Broadway slumbers, the best and funniest play in town (as well as the biggest hit) is turning them away in droves down at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Steal, beg or bribe yourself a ticket to Fully Committed and you’ll revive your faith in show business. Cleverly written by Becky Mode and ingeniously directed by the always imaginative Nicholas Martin, this is a theater piece that holds a hilarious mirror to all of us who have ever tried by hook or crook to get into a trendy, expensive and ridiculously snobby restaurant for any number of reasons rarely having anything to do with the quality of the food. It is very much a play about the way we live now in the Big Pomegranate, conditioned by guilt and desperation and the fear of being left out to risk ulcers and bankruptcy to get the best table.

The title refers to the restaurant term for “all booked up”–words we have come to know as well as “no problem” and “have a nice day.” The play depicts the pathetic and deeply sympathetic plight of an unemployed actor who works a job taking reservations in one of those four-star restaurants that serve pretentious muck like sea urchins stuffed with foie gras under a waterfall of figs and Pernod at 200 bucks a person. You’re flushed going in and green coming out, and all you want is a transfusion of Prilosec, but Gael Greene has nothing on you. You’ve been there, done that, and New York is your oyster, even if it won’t stay down.

Mark Setlock may not be a household name, but this play makes him a star. He’s the only actor on a stage full of telephones, and he is cuddly, frustrated, sweating bullets and constantly at the mercy of the rich, famous, pretentious and downright obnoxious who would kill for a table in this restaurant from Hell that is fully committed two months in advance. A serf from Naomi Campbell’s office demands 15 vegetarian dinners with no dairy, no females waiting tables, special music, no soy, no fat, no salt, no tasting menu and only soft halogen light bulbs.

Harassed by gangsters offering cash, sheiks from Kuwait, ditzy old ladies from Louisville, Japanese midgets, rude socialites you will easily identify from the gossip columns and senior citizens demanding AARP discounts, Sam the reservationist has his hands full. Between the endless multitudes of whining, pleading, impatient callers of all accents, rival actors, neurotic and outrageously overpaid chefs who concoct preposterous dishes you wouldn’t feed to your worst enemy’s pit bull, there’s Sam’s dad wanting him home for Christmas and his agent informing him of all the auditions he just failed. Mr. Setlock plays them all with intricate stopwatch timing that is breathtaking to observe.

I haven’t laughed so much since Elaine May got trapped in her bridal gown on her insanely dysfunctional wedding night in A New Leaf . It’s a one-man tour de force, short, sassy and without intermission, that leaves you delirious. Mr. Setlock is truly an actor who gives good phone, and Fully Committed is a play that sticks with you longer than anything they serve at Balthazar.