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MOVIE REVIEW | 'Bobby G. Can't Swim'

He's Ambitious, Cocky and Swaggering Into Trouble


June 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

The writer, director and star of "Bobby G. Can't Swim," John-Luke Montias, has taken on a formidable task in making the protagonist of his debut feature a street hustler whose life is a series of embarrassments.

Bobby is rousted by the cops, who force him to pull his pants down during a search. And a pack of pumped-up neighborhood fellas leap out of a car to confront Bobby and, despite his bring-it-on manner, beat him as if he were cake batter. His hooker girlfriend, Lucy (Susan Mitchell), walks up to him and slaps the taste out of his mouth while he's drinking beers with his boys.

But despite the fumbles of his lead character, Mr. Montias handles himself well in a small film that fits into the genre of tales about coke heads with dreams bigger than they can fit into their veins, or in Bobby's case his nose. He's a coke dealer who comes upon a chance to make a big score.

Except Bobby, as his disastrous run-ins show, has the worst luck of anybody in Hell's Kitchen, where the movie is set. He ends up losing the kilo of coke he borrowed from a pit bull of a dealer, and endangers his own life and that of his connection friend Coco (Vincent Vega, whose nimble work is the best in the picture). When Mr. Montias is dominating the action, "Bobby G. Can't Swim," which opens today in Manhattan, has the scrappy, downbeat fleetness of 1970's films like Ivan Passer's little-known "Born to Win." As Bobby G., he talks out of the side of his mouth, which makes even his greetings sound vaguely threatening. But only vaguely: he has a heart as big as his habit. And Mr. Montias is generous as an actor; he doesn't try to upstage anybody.

Unfortunately, as a writer, Mr. Montias isn't nearly as good to his crew as he is as a director or actor; Lucy gets to make a speech about wanting to return home to her mother in Puerto Rico and have a regular life, a monologue so banal that it makes the already ruined wallpaper peel faster than it might under normal circumstances. And Bobby has a blind, mentally challenged friend who exists as (a) a plot device and (b) evidence that Mr. Montias's dramatic skills are trapped in the Leo Gorcey School of Fine Writing.

"Bobby G. Can't Swim" is watchable when Mr. Montias focuses on a bunch of guys just sitting around talking or when Bobby's self-destructive tendencies rise to the surface. He's the kind of lowlife who sneaks a can of beer into a bar. There's a honey of a scene in which he leers at a pair of hot young girls who turn out to be Coco's teenage nieces.

But whenever the picture tries to be about something bigger, it turns predictable or maudlin or, in a few sad instances, both simultaneously. Nowhere is this more evident than the moment when Bobby is asked what the G in his name stands for and he whispers, "Grace." At times like this, we realize that it is true not only that "Bobby G. Can't Swim," but that he can't write, either.

"Bobby G. Can't Swim" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for strong language, drug dealing and simulated sex.


A Story From Hell's Kitchen

Written and directed by John-Luke Montias; director of photography, George Gibson; edited by Michael Pilgram; music by Ed Tomney; produced by Gill Holland and Mr. Pilgram; released by Gabriel Film Group. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 85 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: John-Luke Montias (Bobby G.), Susan Mitchell (Lucy), Vincent Vega (Coco), Norman Middleton (Popeet), Paul Maged (Mike), Donna Sonkin (Gina) and Andrew Rein (Andy).

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