Movie Review: Unhappy holiday awaits an Ad-Man in “King of Knives”

Actors are always encouraged to “make work for yourself” — start a theater group, put on shows, write a story with a plum part in it for yourself.

So there’s no such thing as a “vanity project” in that world, not in a general sense.

Still, when you’ve written yourself that part, when the film is self-distributed, and when there’s a young woman in the cast with the same surname (His daughter?) as the character actor who co-scripted himself a leading role, well…

“King of Knives” is a melancholy late-midlife crisis holiday comedy built around Gene Pope. If you’ve ever seen him in anything, you might’ve thought “Oh, he’s Mark Ruffalo’s older brother.”

Pope plays a well-heeled 60something ad-man whose biggest gripe is losing an account because a younger colleague has “rebranded” the mascot of a toilet paper company client. Sammy the Squirrel has gone “urban.” Yeah, it’s offensive.

Frank’s biggest fear is that he’ll be canned for that, or for being old in a profession that loves “young.” And he’s still making payments on that Maserati convertible.

There’s the hint of something sad, a loss, that happened not that long ago in Frank’s life. It’s his wedding anniversary, and there’s a family party. So on this day, of all days, he decides to be late getting home, stopping to smoke himself a J on the way.

His buttoned-down daughter (Emily Bennett) might not approve. Kaitlin, her just-go-with-it-sister (Roxi Pope) laughs it off. Kathy, his wife? You haven’t lived until you’ve heard prim, earth momma Mel Harris of TV’s “thirtysomething” deliver this insult.

“I don’t want you driving high.” “YOU do!” “Yeah, but I handle that s–t better than you do!”

The “loss,” which everybody dances around, was of Danny, the other adult child in their family. And over the course of a weekend, Frank and Kathy — mostly Frank — will deal with all that’s gone wrong, their part in it and “Where does life take us from here?”

The “holiday” ingredients are mostly a suburban neighbor’s over-the-top Christmas decor. Frank gets blitzed and buzzed and talks a would-be groom out of the “trap” of marrying his wife’s niece — at their engagement party. He begs his way into a Bushwick (Brooklyn) party Kaitlin’s been invited to, gets drunker and hits on her (girl)friend Darla (Kara Young) and then submits to a sensitive sprite’s (Justin Sams) offer of a tarot card reading.

That scene is touching, life-altering for Frank, and gives the film its title. Frank is a sad soul braced for a cruel world, the King of Knives (Swords, actually). Frank starts to take action and take responsibility for his mistakes, sort of.

There are single scene grace notes in this that almost make it worth your while. Frank meeting the woman who hosted that party the next day, an athletic and sexy aerialist who shows off her trade (the Spanish Web), Frank having half-hearted heart-to-hearts with his daughters and wife.

It’s not a bad movie, even if there isn’t a lot to it or Pope’s laid-back, roll-(stoned)-with- the-punches performance — even if there’s a whiff of “vanity project” about this “write a good part for myself” indie dramedy.

Hey, it’s better than being confused for Mark Ruffalo’s older brother.

MPA Rating: unrated, drug and alcohol abuse, profanity

Cast: Gene Pope, Mel Harris, Roxi Pope, Justin Sams, Emily Bennett and Kara Young.

Credits: Directed by Jon Delgado, script by Lindsay Joy, Gene Pope. A Pope III release.

Running time: 1:33

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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