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Originally published Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 10:05 PM

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‘Small Time’: Humor, sincerity rev up father-and-son tale

A movie review of “Small Time,” an agreeably sentimental father-and-son tale with strong dashes of humor.

The New York Times

Movie Review

‘Small Time,’ with Christopher Meloni, Dean Norris, Devon Bostick, Bridget Moynahan, Xander Berkeley. Written and directed by Joel Surnow. 95 minutes. Rated R for sexual references. Sundance Cinemas.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.


In the deadly voice-over that begins Joel Surnow’s “Small Time,” a man declares: “This is the story about my father and the summer we spent together many years ago. It was the summer that changed my life.”

Please, no, I groaned. I don’t know if I can stand under another male weepie about fathers and sons and a boy’s coming-of-age.

Although what follows is exactly that, it’s not bad. “Small Time” is agreeably sentimental meat-and-potatoes fare with strong dashes of humor, executed with a sincerity that’s hard to resist.

The voice-over belongs to Freddy (Devon Bostick), the brash 18-year-old son of Al Klein (Christopher Meloni), who, with his friend Ash (Dean Norris), owns Diamond Motors, a used-car dealership in Covina, Calif.

The time is the indeterminate recent past, before smartphones and when soul music was popular. And Al, a straight-talking salt-of-the-earth type, is still hurting after a divorce from his beautiful upwardly mobile wife, Barbara (Bridget Moynahan). Barbara dumped him to marry Chick (Xander Berkeley), a rich venture capitalist for whom she worked while Al was struggling to build his business.

Relative peace prevails, until Freddy suddenly announces that he would rather work for Diamond Motors selling cars than go to college, and that he wants to live with Al in a house Chick describes as “a shoe box in the valley.” Barbara, beside herself, warns Al, “If he ends up like you, I’ll hang myself.”

Freddy moves in with Al, and, in the movie’s funniest scenes, he learns the ropes about car salesmanship. He proves to be an adept, funny fast talker and soon starts behaving like an obnoxious big shot. Al reluctantly takes action.

At first, “Small Time” seems as if it’s going to be a polemic about class warfare that pits the hearty working class against the chilly, indifferent rich. But it proves to be an evenhanded serious comedy reflective of a more optimistic era. (Its first draft was written in 1976.) Meloni’s Al, the good dad incarnate, is a less hotheaded version of Elliot Stabler, his character on “Law & Order: SVU.” Norris’ Ash exhibits the same gruff heartiness as Hank, his character on “Breaking Bad.” Barbara softens, and Chick, although reserved, is far from icy. Bostick’s Freddy, for all his upstart behavior, is a good boy at heart.

“Small Time” adds up to a refreshingly unpretentious, warmhearted made-for-television movie that thinks better of humanity than most movies nowadays.

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