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The Tenants (March 4/06)

Based on the 1971 novel by Bernard Malamud, The Tenants has the feel and tone of a film from that era - right down to the outrageously outmoded perspective on race relations. The end result is a thoroughly dated and hopelessly irrelevant piece of work that has virtually nothing to offer a contemporary viewer, though Dylan McDermott is admittedly quite good in the central role.

The Tenants is set in 1972 and stars McDermott as Harry Lesser, a writer who's had some success as a novelist but has been struggling with his latest book for several months. Harry's peace and quiet is interrupted by the arrival of Willie Spearmint (Snoop Dogg), a militant, jive-talking, would-be author who is working on a novel of his own. The two strike an uneasy friendship that eventually turns hostile, primarily due to Harry's pursuit of Willie's girlfriend (played by Rose Byrne).

Director Danny Green - working from a screenplay by David Diamond - initially infuses The Tenants with a strangely compelling, distinctly off-kilter sort of vibe - emphasizing Harry's day-to-day struggle with his novel over anything even resembling a plot. It's clear that Green was looking to emulate the feel of a '70s character study, and in that respect, the filmmaker has certainly succeeded (particularly in terms of the extremely deliberate pacing and Leigh Gorman's jazzy score). Harry's relationship with Willie is likewise surprisingly intriguing at the outset, as Harry attempts to assist Willie with his work - despite Willie's best efforts to rebuff his advances at every turn.

Though Dogg admittedly delivers a fairly effective performance, the character of Willie is painted with such broad strokes that it's ultimately impossible to take him seriously. Willie generally comes off as a stereotypically Angry Black Man, something that's exemplified by the novel he's writing (named, appropriately enough, Kill Whitey). As such, Willie never progresses beyond the level of flat-out parody; it's difficult to imagine even the most forgiving viewer overlooking this incredibly simplistic aspect of the film.

The Tenants is nothing short of a complete and utter mess, a situation that's undoubtedly compounded by the heavy-handedness with which the filmmakers have imbued the storyline.

out of

About the DVD: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Tenants with an anamorphically-enhanced transfer, along with several bonus trailers (Dirty, Chasing Ghosts, The Gospel, End Game, The Passenger, and Breakfast on Pluto).
© David Nusair