Film: 2 Days in the Valley

2 Days in the Valley (1996) didn’t make much of an impression on me a couple of decades ago. After nine years of living in the Valley, I thought I’d give it another try, if only to catch a glimpse of now-familiar locations. Well, it’s still a pretty mediocre piece of work, but oddly that seems to be part of the point?

This mildly amusing modern noir involves a tangle of schemers in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, the unfashionable desert exurbs of LA county where the glitz and glamor of Hollywood gradually fade the further north you go. A pair of assassins—slick, slimy Lee (James Spader) and down-on-his-luck shlub Dosmo (Danny Aiello)—kick things off by murdering an adulterous ne’er-do-well named Roy (Peter Horton). Shortly thereafter, Lee double-crosses Dosmo and leaves him for dead. Miraculously, though, Dosmo escapes, setting off a twisty, comic, and occasionally violent chain of events that entangles a whole raft of quirky Angelenos.

Age has a tendency of showing you the ways media you once considered contemporary was on the wrong side of history. 2 Days in the Valley is a case in point. Its off-hand racism (see: Jeff Daniels’ cynical vice cob Alvin), sexism (see: an epic Bechdel-fail “cat fight” between Teri Hatcher and a very young Charlize Theron), and lack of diversity (see: the entire cast) really pins this film to its era. Simultaneously, it looks to be trying to pay homage to an earlier era, with a vaguely 1970s feel that suggests it might be attempting a throwback Pulp Fiction-like vibe. If so, it’s a decidedly second-rate attempt at that kind of threaded mega-story. While it possesses a decent plot and cast, it doesn’t have the finesse, sense of humor, surprise, or smarts to pull off an ambitious, multifaceted narrative. Interestingly, this plays into the theme of the film, which eventually tumbles from the lips of suicidal has-been film director Teddy Peppers (Paul Mazursky) when he mentions that “a loser has more honor than a winner.” Most of the film’s sympathetic characters are losers: from Dosmo to Teddy to Hatcher’s perpetual runner-up athlete Becky to Eric Stoltz’s frustrated detective Wes. For all its flaws, 2 Days in the Valley—though it may be punching down, perhaps, on the Valley’s bleak reputation—attempts to be a love letter to failures, which makes it slightly endearing. In the end, the fact that it fails to do so very effectively is only fitting.

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