With Friends Like These

The distinguished man of letters Gore Vidal once quipped "It is not enough to
succeed. Others must fail." There's some truth to it and it is the underlying sentiment
behind the comedy-drama
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, written and directed by Philip
F. Messina. Although ostensibly about journeymen character actors in search of that big
break, the film raises salient points that transcend its show business setting, much the
same way the stage musical
A CHORUS LINE does. Arguably, you cannot be human
and not feel a pang of jealousy when a friend gets a promotion or a new job, meets a new
lover or otherwise enjoys some sort of success.

The film centers on Johnny DiMartino (Robert Costanzo), often typecast as a cop,
a hitman, or a cab driver. Johnny has managed to make a living at it, although he
continues to seek that one big break that will catapult him to the next level. He's buddies
with a trio of other struggling actors, the neurotic Steve Hersh (Adam Arkin),
good-looking playboy Dorian Mastrandrea (Jon Tenney), and the mysterious Armand
Minetti (David Staithairn). Not only do they play poker together but their families
socialize. Each is struggling to land that next role while being supported by the women in
their lives. For Johnny, his wife Hannah (Amy Madigan) is a pillar of support and
encouragement, while Steve's Italian wife (Laura San Giacomo) is accepting of his
shortcomings. Dorian's wife Samantha (Elle Macpherson) is an actress struggling with
being typecast and a failing marriage. Armand, who has hidden talents as a chef, can't
seem to commit to his girlfriend (Lauren Tom).

After an anniversary party for the DiMartinos, casting agent Theresa Carpenter
(Beverly D'Angelo) phones Johnny with the news that she's actually in Los Angeles to
find an unknown to star in a biopic about Al Capone and she's been asked by the director
to arrange an audition for Johnny. That the director in question happens to be Martin
Scorsese is, of course, makes her pitch all the sweeter.

Johnny, though, cannot keep a secret. While doing research on Capone at the
library, he runs into Dorian with his latest girlfriend. Swearing his pal to secrecy, he tells
him of the audition. Of course, Dorian wants in, and he's soon on the phone cajoling his
agent to get him an appointment. Johnny also confides in Armand, to whom he's turned
for coaching, since the group is certain that Armand comes from a family with
"connections." It doesn't take long before Steve hears of the part and despite some
misgivings, he also wheedles an audition. Throw in an actor who resembles Johnny (Jon
Polito) and who often lands the parts for which they compete and the stage is set for an
amusing denouement.

Despite its setting, which might have been considered too "inside" for mainstream
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE proves to be a very amusing diversion.
Several scenes are laugh out loud funny, yet Messina never loses sight of the humanity of
the characters and their foibles. If it all comes together in a fairy tale ending, well, it is a
movie, after all. The cast is note perfect, down to the cameos by Bill Murray, Gary
Marshall and Scorsese. Although it has been playing the festival circuit since 1998 and was
released on DVD in 1999, it might be worth a look see. As it stands, Messina and company
can be proud of their achievements.

 Rating:                             B-
 MPAA Rating:                Rated R for language
  Running time:                 106 mins.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.