Tuesday, April 04, 2023

One Day as a Lion, Co-Starring Frank Grillo and J.K. Simmons

Pauly Russo would probably agree with Texans about why all their trees lean to the North. Adjusting to Oklahoma is a challenge for the Brooklyn mobster. The dry heat is annoying, but folks’ laidback sensibilities are even more so. His plan to whack a cowboy in no hurry to pay off his gambling debts leads to a lot of trouble for everyone in John Swab’s One Day as a Lion, which opens today in select theaters and releases Friday on VOD.

Jackie Powers is a big time loser, but it is actually his son Billy who is behind bars. Technically, it is juvy, but Powers knows if he can’t get his son out quickly, he will get chewed up by the system. To earn money for an attorney, Powers agrees to kill Walter Boggs, who owes Russo more than is good for business. Unfortunately, Powers makes a hash of it, accidentally killing an obnoxious short-order cook in the crossfire. Of course, Boggs is fine—and he will be ready for Russo when the gangster-creditor comes calling.

Assuming himself to be on the run, Powers tries to take Lola Brisky the diner waitress hostage, but he cannot really handle her either. However, Brisky sees an opportunity to use him for her advantage. If he can convince her judgmental but wealthy mother Valerie, “the Black Widow,” they are a couple, there could be money in it for both of them. To do so, they must evade Russo’s fixer, Dom Lorenzo, who needs Powers to give himself up, to take the heat off Russo’s outfit.

In the 1990s, when “indie film” was thought to mean something, screenwriter-star Scott Caan’s combination of hardboiled snarky dialogue and gritty gunplay would have been considered an important cinematic statement. Today, it’s the stuff of straight-to-VOD releases. Yet, this kind of material can be just as entertaining now as it was then.

To that end, Caan’s script is just okay, but three of his co-stars do a lot to elevate it. Frank Grillo and J.K. Simmons are perfectly cast and impeccably compliment each as the brash Russo and the sly, deadpan Boggs. The two do gangster attitude better than just about anyone.

Yet, Marianne Rendon is the surprise ace card for Caan and Swab, because of her sarcastic but sultry portrayal of Lola Brisky. Thanks to her, the weird relationship that develops between her and Powers makes enough sense for most viewers to buy in. Caan is mostly credible but unremarkable as Powers, up until the third act, when he and the film get serious about things like family and commitment. It is a nice moment that he deserves credit for.

For members of the Frank Grillo film-of-the-week club,
One Day as a Lion is a bit better than many of his recent releases. It is definitely a good showcase for his swagger (and that of Simmons), but it also has a little more than that. This is still definitely a minor release, but it is surprisingly watchable. Recommended as a lowkey streamer for fans of the cast, One Day as a Lion opens tonight (4/4) in Brooklyn at the Kent Theater and Friday (4/7) on VOD.