Dir: Al Pacino. US. 2000. 97 mins.
Prod cos: CHAL Productions in association with Shooting Gallery. Exec prod: Anne D'Amato. Prods: Michael Hadge, Larry Meistrich, Robert Salerno. Scr: Ira Lewis adapted from his own play. DoP: Frank Prinzi. Prod des: Wing Lee. Ed: Michael Berenbaum. Mus: Elmer Bernstein. Main cast: Al Pacino, Jerry Orbach, Susan Floyd, Ellen McElduff.
Pacino took three years to make his follow-up to Looking For Richard, filming in between high profile movie roles, and he himself admits that Chinese Coffee is a small project with limited audience appeal. It certainly has its merits, specifically in the dynamite performances by both Pacino and Jerry Orbach, although in reality it is nothing more than a filmed play with all the confinement and longuers that implies. Nevertheless, Fox Searchlight recently bought worldwide rights to the film and should muster some interest through the Pacino name.
Scripted by Ira Lewis from his own play, it follows a single conversation between two old friends - one a Greenwich Village writer Harry Levine (Pacino) whose early promise has never been fulfilled and the other an erudite photographer and erstwhile writer Jake Manheim (Orbach) who was his early mentor.
Levine wants to know what Manheim thinks of his new book manuscript; Manheim confesses he hasn't read it. As the conversation progresses, the film flashes back through the ten years of their friendship, Levine's lost love (Floyd) and the struggles, delusions and despair the two have endured for the sake of their art.
The story offers insights into the minds, vanities and insecurities of the two middle-aged men losing hope that they will ever be noticed, yet Lewis and Pacino could have used the medium better, illustrating the relationship and the Village location through more flashbacks rather than the epic dialogue in Jake's apartment. The two actors interact superbly, but then again they could have done that just as well on stage.