Aidan Redmond and Mike Rutkoski in 69 Parts (Photos: Hit and Run Productions)
★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Ari Taub
STARS Aidan Redmond, Ryan O’Callaghan
Like a Frankenstein monster rising unsteadily from an operating table, 69 Parts initially seems like it was similarly stitched together from bits and pieces of existing material. But also like Mary Shelley’s brainchild, this effort from director Ari Taub soon establishes its own identity.
Working from a screenplay by Chuck McMahon, Taub orchestrates a multi-character affair that’s set in the NYC of 1979. The voice-over narration provided by the character of Dennis Slattery explains that it’s his story, while the v.o. offered by the character of Jack Anderson insists it’s his story. Honestly, it might as well be the story of Gino, since he’s the character who provides the bridge between the other two.
Jack (Ryan O’Callaghan) is a virginal law student who doesn’t have the funds to finish his education. His best friend is Gino (Johnny Solo), a boisterous dese-and-dose type whose Uncle Dennis (Aidan Redmond) is a mobster who does have dough. An incurable gambler, Gino convinces Dennis to lend his buddy $10,000, secretly figuring that a good day at the races stands to leave everyone with plenty of cash to burn.
Of course, the wrong horse wins, the loan goes down the drain, and Dennis soon wants his funds repaid. It seems like Jack is a goner until Dennis finds a good use for this hapless sap, one that involves the mobster’s own girlfriend (Daniela Mastropietro). Also tossed into the mix are Dennis’ suspicious wife (Lisa Regina), a pair of largely ineffectual agents (Lou Martini Jr. and Martin Barabas), a pervy henchman named Eight Track (Mike Rutkoski), a menacing hit man known only as Bomber (Tim Ruddy), and about a dozen other colorful characters, a few played by such established vets as Eric Roberts, Sandra Bernhard, and Tony Lo Bianco.
69 Parts views modern cinema as its own buffet table, gingerly sampling from the 1970s (Johnny Solo’s Gino might as well be the younger brother of Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy from Scorsese’s Mean Streets), the 1990s (the schematic plotting recalls Pulp Fiction-era Tarantino), and beyond (the milieu and the characters bring to mind some of Guy Ritchie’s ruffians). As cinema is often about sampling, though, this isn’t meant as a criticism, as it’s instead impressive how Taub and McMahon manage to infuse many of their characters with their own distinct personalities. Jack Anderson never really expands beyond the parameters of the in-over-his-head nerd, but Gino is given a goofball quality that’s as engaging as it is infuriating, while Dennis is provided a few shadings often not accorded to goodfellas.
For the majority of the time, the film cruises on the strength of its overlapping scenarios, its rat-tat-tat pacing, and Taub’s playful direction. But like the losing horse that seemingly dooms Jack, it begins to flag in the later laps. Characters that we had hoped would be allowed to develop are instead reduced to drop-ins required to keep the story moving (particularly Bomber), while the relatively lackluster ways in which the protagonists extract themselves from sticky situations don’t always fulfill the promise of the earlier establishing sequences.
Still, there’s certainly enough of merit to earn it an audience, and even the weaker aspects don’t prevent it from ultimately being greater than the sum of its parts — all 69 of them.
(69 Parts is scheduled for release September 2022.)