This intense, stage-trained African-American leading lady of the 1970s--and busy supporting player ever since--began her career in NYC, performing as a nightclub singer before moving to stage work on...
When jailed petty thief Cosimo (Luis Guzman) is given the recipe for a heist so perfect it's practically a masterpiece--or in his specific street lingo a "Bellini"--his long-suffering girl Rosalind (Patricia Clarkson) sends the word out to all the seedy characters and petty huslers in Collinwood a working-class neighborhood on Cleveland's East Side: Cosimo needs a "Mullinski " or fall guy to take the prison rap for him so he can pull the safecracking job. However five potential Mullinskis--cocky prizefighter Pero (Sam Rockwell) broke single dad Riley (William H Macy) slick and streetwise Leon (Isaiah Washington) handsome gigolo Basil (Andrew Davoli) and over-the-hill thief Toto (Michael Jeter)--decide to pull off the Bellini themselves. If only they were as smart as they were desperate for cash.
The film is produced by director Steven Soderbergh and actor George Clooney both of whom know more than a little about on-screen performance and they've recruited a troupe of top-notch character actors most of whom audiences usually see shining in supporting roles. The film particularly provides a chance for Rockwell who's been turning in a dizzying amount of scene-stealing performances in recent years to step into the spotlight as a leading man and the actor proves worthy of the task. At first seeming the swaggering loudmouth who's too dumb to know he's dumb Rockwell's Pero morphs believably into the movie's main mover and shaker and ultimately a convincing romantic lead (his scenes with a sweetly restrained Jennifer Esposito have both warmth and a hint of sizzle). Among the veterans the always-engaging Macy plays a fresh variation of one his trademark hapless losers on the brink while the vastly underused Jeter brings spark and life to an otherwise woefully underwritten role. Meanwhile the newcomers Washington and Davoli hold their own against the heavyweights and show great promise for roles to come (Gabrielle Union is also potent in a blink-and-you'll-miss-her part). On the flip side Soderbergh stalwart Guzman is as watchable as ever but his role never develops enough--comedically or dramatically--to allow him to give a truly eye-opening performance while recent Emmy-winner Clarkson's considerable talents are wasted in a thankless "girlfriend" part. Ironically the most disappointing performance comes from the flick's biggest name: Clooney who cameos as a tattooed wheelchair-bound safecracker. George is game enough but the script lets him down by giving his seemingly outrageous character very little by way of outrageous dialogue or action.
The up-and-coming writing-directing team of brothers Anthony and Joe Russo prove adroit enough with their visuals and staging. They know enough to get out of their actors' ways and never allow the film's many slapstick moments to hit the audience sledgehammer-hard a la those other brothers the Farrellys. But where the film avoids getting dumb and dumber it also never goes far enough to wring more than polite chuckles out of the comedic set-ups--call them Genteel and Genteeler. Nor do they reach the heights of arty loopiness of that second set of cinematic siblings the Coens. Instead the Russos' film--which borrows liberally from the Italian comedy Big Deal on Madonna Street--is as featherweight as cotton candy: tasty enough while it's in front of you but also instantly forgettable save for the high-quality performances.
Film debut, "All American Boy" (released theatrically in 1973)
Stage debut, off-off-Broadway in "Soul Gone Home"
Joined Negro Enemble Company
First TV-movie, "Ceremonies and Dark Old Men", recreating her stage role
Joined cast of ABC sudser "General Hospital" as Mary Mae Ward
Returned to Negro Ensemble Company to appear in "The 16th Round"
Performed as nightclub singer
Film acting debut opposite Charleton Heston in "The Omega Man"
Appeared frequently as guest perfomer on episodic TV throughout the 1970s
This intense, stage-trained African-American leading lady of the 1970s--and busy supporting player ever since--began her career in NYC, performing as a nightclub singer before moving to stage work on and off-Broadway. In 1968, Cash joined the prestigious Negro Ensemble Company. From the early 1970s on, she worked on stage and TV and intermittently on the big screen in films including "The Omega Man" (1971), "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974), "Cornbread, Earl & Me" (1975) and "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension" (1984). Cash's TV credits tended toward the high-minded and culturally sensitive with projects like the 1974 PBS "Theater in America" presentation of a New York Shakespeare Festival production of "King Lear" (she was Goneril) and the 1984 adaptation of James Baldwin's autobiographical classic "Go Tell It on the Mountain". She also appeared in several high-profile miniseries including "Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones" (CBS, 1980) and the Melvin Van Peebles-scripted drama "The Sophisticated Gents" (NBC, 1981). In 1994, Cash accepted what was to become her TV last role: Mary Mae Ward, a proud matriarch who had triumphed over racism and tragedy on the ABC daytime drama "General Hospital". She made her final film appearance in the horror-comedy "Tales From the Hood" (1995) as the fierce Dr. Cushing, an assignment reminiscent of some of her work in 70s blaxploitation flicks.
together from 1987; survived her
Negro Ensemble Company
City College of New York
Inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame (1992)