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"City by the Sea" Movie Review

James Franco and Robert DeNiro in "City by the Sea."
©2002 Warner Bros. Pictures

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"City by the Sea" is being advertised as a Robert DeNiro film, but the fact of the matter is, this is a James Franco film. His performance as the estranged druggie son of Detective Vincent LaMarca (DeNiro) is the saving grace of a film that is otherwise bogged down by stilted dialogue and scenes that just don't work.

Robert DeNiro stars as Detective LaMarca, a man who is detached from everyone and everything but his law enforcement work. After a messy divorce, LaMarca basically abandons his only child to the care of his ex-wife. The son never forgives or forgets the desertion by his father, and grows up to be the antithesis of his dad. Whereas the father lives an orderly, regimented life dedicated to the law, the son hits the low road becoming a drug addict, thief and ultimately, a murder suspect.

Frances McDormand co-stars as Vincent's would-be girlfriend who is left in the dark about his past history to the point where she is unaware that Vincent even has a son. She's also unaware of Vincent's own father's criminal history. Seems Vincent's father was executed for the killing of a child, a fact that helps explain Vincent's detachment from his own son.

James Franco gives a dead-on performance as Joey 'Nova' LaMarca, a young man who succumbs to the lure of drugs, gets addicted and then can't escape from his life as an addict. Franco's already thin body-build looks even more bony and gaunt, effectively creating the look of a young adult aged beyond his years by drugs and a rough life. It's his compelling performance in this film that carries the powerful honesty hinted at by the rest of the story but short-circuited by ineffective dialogue.

Loosely based on a true story, the film is caught up in a quagmire of mixed messages and deviates from a solid premise into too many unnecessary and intrusive side stories. McDormand and Eliza Dushku portray the women in Vincent and Joey's lives, but unfortunately they are used as little more than window dressing.

"City by the Sea" does have its compelling moments. DeNiro is DeNiro - still a joy to watch even while delivering speeches you wish he'd take back the minute he's finished delivering them. Franco and DeNiro have a good father-son type of chemistry going and their scenes together are bright spots in the film (that is, if you can get past the 'Hollywood' dialogue).

Overall Grade: C+

"City by the Sea" is rated R for language, drug use and some violence.

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