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Originally published Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

"The Dukes" is a heist comedy that will steal your heart

Robert Davi's crowd-pleasing heist comedy "The Dukes" earns the low-budget film label, "labor of love." Review by Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

"The Dukes, " with Robert Davi, Chazz Palminteri, Peter Bogdanovich, Frank D'Amico, Miriam Margolyes, Elya Baskin, Bruce Weitz, Melora Hardin. Directed by Davi, from a screenplay by Davi and James Andronica. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 for brief sexuality and drug references. Meridian.

It's standard for almost any low-budget film to be categorized as "a labor of love," but Robert Davi's crowd-pleasing heist comedy "The Dukes" earns the cliché.

Davi, a longtime character actor (he's best known for playing the villain in the James Bond adventure "License to Kill"), began writing a screenplay in the late '70s with his friend James Andronica, about the members of an aging doo-wop vocal group who reluctantly agree to a heist in the hope that it will finance their comeback. Thirty years later, the film's finally on screen, with Davi as director, co-writer and star.

Danny (Davi) and George (Chazz Palminteri) are two former New Yorkers who've made their way to Los Angeles only to see their music careers fizzle; they now work at a kitschy Italian trattoria owned by their Aunt Vee (Miriam Margolyes) and struggle to make ends meet. ("Where do you think you go when you die?" one of them asks sadly. The answer: "They probably send everybody back to California.")

One day, at the dentist, an idea for a heist occurs: Why not steal the dentist's cache of gold? This leads to the usual sort of heist-comedy shenanigans, with a few fresh twists; one being that if you don a white coat, you can apparently walk right into a dental lab without anyone asking any questions.

But "The Dukes" isn't really about the heist, or even about the finger-snapping doo-wop music that fills its soundtrack — it's about longtime friendship and never giving up on dreams. Sure, it's a little sentimental, but just try to resist when Aunt Vee, in the hospital, reminds Danny that he has a voice that "filled my soul with angels." Davi, who has the kind of handsomely weathered face that has spent a lot of time gazing into the sun, clearly poured his heart into this movie, and it shows.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725

or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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