The movie borrows plot elements from three early Italo Calvino short stories ("Theft in a Pastry Shop," "Desire in November," and "Transit Bed," still available in English in the volume Difficult Loves) and a snatch or two from Mario Monicelli's sublime 1958 international hit Big Deal on Madonna Street. Actually, Taylor and Epstein share more with Calvino and Monicelli than anecdotes about a bake-shop burglary, a street guy finding sudden comfort in furs, a prostitute overlapping a cop and a crook, and a gang that just can't drill straight. Palookaville, like these Italian human comedies, has a catalytic and ultimately healing sense of life's proximities. This movie specializes in harrowing and delightful convergences -- right from the start, when the contiguity of a bakery and a jewelry store precipitates a criminal fiasco. (When an investigating policeman's hand reaches for a brownie, it nearly bumps into Jerry's.) For Russ, for example, only a back path separates familial entrapment and sexual bliss. Taylor seizes on the slapstick and the potential for grace in limited circumstances. There's barbed hilarity to Russ and Sid watching a 1950 B-flick called Armored Car Robbery at home with Russ' mom, sister, and "cop-in-law"; there's cozy magic to Jerry surprising his wife with pastries that tumble from his shirt. Rachel Portman's music twirls Mediterranean gaiety and melancholy, and that versatile, sensitive cinematographer John Thomas (who also shot the scabrously witty Freeway) imbues the film with an autumnal allure. Seen against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline (including the looming twin towers of the World Trade Center), the shingle and brick edifices of the Jersey City settings have a warm, seedy fragility. But this movie is no paean to cliched little people and their pathos-laden dreams. In Palookaville, small isn't beautiful. Real is beautiful.

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