Local Color Talks About Art
How is it that a film about the love of art can make art seem so detestable? Years before scripting Midnight Run and The Whole Ten Yards, writer-turned-director George Gallo was first an impressionist landscape painter, and his life-changing experiences from the summer of 1974 apparently resembled Ralph Macchio's leg-sweeping coming of age in The Karate Kid. Standing in for the young Gallo, Trevor Morgan stars as John, an impassioned, naïve teenager who begins pestering a vodka-swilling Russian genius of a brushman named Nicoli (Armin Mueller-Stahl) to teach him the true meaning of Christmas. Curmudgeonly and insultingly curt, Nicoli nicknames John "the little shit," drops F-bombs to prove to us that he's grouchy, and forces his young protégé into wallpapering his room and doing other maintenance chores. (Painting the fence would obviously be redundant.) Sappy and overworked, the film swells and stays swollen with on-the-nose uplift, such as the eureka moment when John learns that clouds aren't really just white, or when nearby neighbor Carla (Samantha Mathis) gives him his first electrifying kiss. The characters talk stiltedly and broadly about the art of art, and there's nothing more artless than that.
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