Being damned by faint praise is the lot of most releasable ultra-indies, and Walter Foote's The Tavern is particularly damnabledeliberately slight and modest, the movie often achieves a temperate naturalism that doesn't quite make up for the lack of ambition, depth, or originality. But naturalism is no mean feat, at least not in America. The filmmaker, a not-so-young scion of the Horton Foote dynasty, honed his narrative down to the naked basics: Two working-class buddies (Cameron Dye and Kevin Geer) decide to buy a restaurant-bar somewhere in Manhattan (though the exterior looks like a nice corner of Queens). That's it. Of course, the nine-out-of-10 failed-food-biz stat looms, and the tiny joint is beset by a series of small, believable dilemmas (loans, rival restaurateurs, errant cooks, etc.) until low volume does them in. The two heroes are affable schmucks with no secrets; Dye's gabby barkeep tries to maintain a romance with a zaftig store clerk (Kym Austin), while Geer's bald, placid family man barely tolerates his grouchy wife (Margaret Cho). Though rife with incidental plot holes, Foote's movie feels right even when nothing important is happeningwhich is much of the time. But it amounts to a dozy, unmemorable daydream.
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