Pete Smalls is Dead

Pete Smalls is Dead

Pete Smalls is Dead (Director: Alexandre Rockwell): Peter Dinklage plays K.C., a former Hollywood screenwriter who now runs a laundromat. Having moved to New York after his wife died, he has little time for his former life, preferring to spend time with his beloved dog Buddha. But after a loan shark kidnaps the dog and holds him as ransom for an unpaid debt, K.C. has to come up with $10,000 fast. At the same time, his former colleague Pete Smalls, a successful director, has just washed up dead on a beach, and his friend Jack is pestering him to go to the funeral. Only after Jack promises to get him the money does K.C. agree to return to L.A.

This highly-contrived premise is the set up for a shaggy dog film that is overstuffed with quirk and straining from the abundance of shopworn cliches it employs to reach its predictably happy ending. On one hand, it’s great to see Dinklage in a role that doesn’t constantly make reference to his size. But he’s burdened with portraying a character who hasn’t cracked a smile in ten years, and who doesn’t get to change that in the film. Another annoyance is the use of voiceover throughout, as if this were a film noir.

The structure and characters are much too reminiscent of The Big Lebowski, a film with a much better script and fresher performances. Rockwell has assembled a great cast, most of whom have appeared in his earlier films, especially In the Soup. Some of the supporting cast have fun, especially Steve Buscemi (in a blonde afro wig) and Michael Lerner, playing a couple of greasy producers. And Mark Boone Junior, in the dude role of Jack, reminded me at times of the late great Maury Chaykin.

In the end, the script just has too many twists for its own good. The quirky gang of pals that comes together to help K.C. out seems thrown together unbelievably. Stabs of pseudo-symbolism (butterflies, snow globes) are embarrassing, and the overuse of film techniques like the iris zoom are just annoying.

I hate to sound so down on a film that was clearly a labour of love for all involved. Rockwell seems like a genuinely nice man, and I’m sure his cast all did the film as a favour to him. But the story didn’t hold my interest beyond the half-hour mark, and some characters (esp. Seymour Cassel’s) seemed to be written into the script just so he could give one of his actor friends a role. It feels a bit like a reunion project with no real life as a film of its own.

Perhaps it was just K.C.’s (or was it Peter Dinklage’s?) gloom that permeated what was supposed to be a fun caper film. In any case, Pete Smalls is Dead. To quote one of the characters in the film, “he’s dead as a doornail.”

Here is the Q&A with director Alexandre Rockwell and stars Mark Boone Junior and Seymour Cassel from after the screening. Of note is the fact that Rockwell’s 87-year-old mother Svetlana lives in Montréal and was at the screening, sitting in the row right behind me. She asks Seymour Cassel a question that he spends quite a bit of time, uh, answering. Also of note was that Rockwell’s wife and daughter were sitting in the row behind me as well. His wife is Karyn Parsons, who played older sister Hilary on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Duration: 22:01


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18 Responses to Pete Smalls is Dead

  1. ROCKWELL says:


    Always hurts when it misses for one person and that person has a blog. I have heard some very nice things about the film from some others. Well, I would just say see it for yourself. It is a fun ride and the actors are just wonderful.
    There is some magic in this film for those who can see it. I am very proud of it-ALEX

  2. Jean Droin says:

    I must say I was in the audience and apart from not completely following the dialogues found PEE SMALLS IS DEAD to be an very engaging original piece of art.

    Pete Dinklage is a leading man and holds the role with confidence. How many times do you remember Bogart smiling?

    Too bad this first screening must be reviewed so negatively. To each his own and I must say I wish someone who cares for this film had been the first to review it.

    I love this kind of film and it spoke to me and my friends who had the good fortune to be there for the film and the engaging Q&A afterwards. Mr. Cassel wandered a bit too long. I wish the moderator had stopped him from wandering.
    I would love to converse with the above reviewer as I found most of the plot easy to follow and very engaging.
    I did not see the BIG LEWBOWSKI but will rent it tonight and see if there are similarities.
    I hope the above review is a minority view and that Mr. Rockwell finds the support to go one making this kind of original film.

  3. Alex, it also hurts when it doesn’t work and the director comes to comment on your blog! As I tried to express in the review, it’s nothing personal. You seem like a great guy and the actors clearly loved working with you.

    And Jean, glad you enjoyed PEE SMALLS! Quite seriously, I’m happy that you enjoyed it, and if I prove to be in the minority, it makes no difference to me. And yes, you must see THE BIG LEBOWSKI immediately!

    Alex, I hope there are many more Jeans in the audiences who come to see the film than cranky reviewers with blogs!

  4. Jean Droin says:

    Thanks for the recommendation for Big Lebowski!
    Very funny and well put together film. I have resisted watching the Choen Brothers due to what I find a cold view of humanity. Bt this film is just a joy.
    As for comparisons with Pete Smalls(sorry for the misspelling), I think it is quite different. Don’t you think? After all the character of KC is a sad man who needs to be brought back to life and the dude is a twist on the classic detective in the Dashiell Hammet books. He is kind of a bumbling fool.

    Rockwell and his friends seem much more interested in sitting next to the people they portray not looking down on them. There are some bumps in the Smalls film but all and all I prefer the diamonds in Rockwell’s mud to the perfection of the Choen’s craft.
    Thanks again and good luck to you and Mr. Rockwell.

  5. Very nicely put, Jean. “Diamonds in Rockwell’s mud.” I’m glad you were able to find them. Also glad you enjoyed Big Lebowski. The fact that it is one of my favourite films may have blinded me a little to some of Pete Smalls’ charms.

  6. Jean Droin says:

    I would very much like to exchange a list of your top ten films one day (or more) as you seem to have a sharp mind and good taste in films (Smalls aside).
    Keep writing and I will keep watching. Best wishes, Jean.

  7. ROCKWELL says:

    Mr. McNally,

    The only reason I wrote on your blog was because my 87-year-old mother found it while looking for a review of the premiere. Count yourself lucky I convinced her not to write as well.
    Every film will appeal to different people or not and thank god for that. To suggest it works for one and all is not to understand what artist do. I make the table and you can do whatever you please with it.
    I would not have responded to your review had it not been the very first one. Pete Smalls has no distribution a yet and I would like it to get its legs under it before it is attacked. The chances of this film being seen by a small audience are very slim so every negative public review hurts all the more.
    I often feel every critic should have to read his or her review out loud, in public to the creator of the film. Better yet the director’s mother. Well maybe that’s a bit harsh but you get the idea.
    That said, you seem like a nice guy as well and from your photo have a nice smile. How about I write you a part in my next film?
    You could play opposite my mother and in the climax you and she could go to battle with snow globes and butterflies as weapons. Of course mom would have the the snow globes. She is the mother of the director after all.


    PS: I would bet that if you watched the film again you would see something more in it than you did that night. I would be glad to send you a DVD should you accept my wager. -A

  8. Alex, I think we’re in danger of becoming friends! And of course the problem becomes that it’s much more difficult to be a critic of someone’s work if you are friends with them.

    I didn’t realize my review was the first, and to be honest, that knowledge really wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have had any bearing on my reaction to the film. I’m not saying that others won’t enjoy the film, and for your sake, I hope they do. But all I can do (and all I feel I’m responsible to do) is to call it as I see it.

    I’m more than happy to watch the film again on DVD. In fact, I’d love to review IN THE SOUP as well. I think it would bear more fruit, though, to get your film reviewed more widely rather than trying to change my mind. I know dozens of film bloggers that would take you up on the offer of a DVD to review. Let me know if that would help you out, and I can even write a blog post about it.

    Wishing you (and your mother) the best! 🙂

  9. ROCKWELL says:

    I wish we had been friends a while ago.
    I would love to send you a copy of IN THE SOUP unless you can find one and as for a DVD of Smalls well I am a bit gun shy unless you want to see it again.
    I want to get the film into the festival circuit and possibly find distribution before the possible downside of bad reviews.
    Of course good reviews help but bad ones can mess with the prospects. So many buyers and distributors need their opinions dictated to them, fragile souls that they are… A

  10. ROCKWELL says:

    Back from a great time in Oldenburg FF. The audience responded well and it was a great relief. I thought I may have made a turkey after Montreal but my spirits were lifted by the crowd and the support I found there. Nothing like a little preparation and a full room to show a mixed comedy in. It does wonders for the spirit.
    The Hollywood Reporter will hopefully be the next review to get out and it should be a good one.
    On to Rome and still better days-ALEX

    PS: let me know if you have found a copy of SOUP and if you still want to have another look at Smalls . Or was that THE BIG SMALLS…-A

  11. ROCKWELL says:


  12. Alex,

    Congratulations on the festival screenings and especially the F.X. Feeney review. I’ve always liked his writing, and he’s more “influential” than me by a long measure.

    Haven’t yet tracked down IN THE SOUP, but up to my ears in other stuff.

    I’m sincerely glad that SMALLS is connecting with audiences and wish you well.

  13. ROCKWELL says:

    Thanks James,

    hope you are well and get out from under it long enough to see a good film or two…A

  14. ROCKWELL says:

    Oh yeah,
    try and find the time to write something about Tony Curtis when you can.

    He was a great guy and the original tiny bopper’s dream boat.

    Even ELVIS copied his look. A

  15. There is a good chance Italians are going to respond well to pete Small is Dead .
    Alex’s excellent juxtapositon of the grotesque and of poetry reminds me of Fellini.
    The energy in the film is contageous.

    Svetlana Rockwell

  16. SON OF SVET says:

    Ahhhhh, maaaa….I told you my mother would be on you James-A

  17. I just read that the film will be getting a limited theatrical release on November 11, 2011 and the DVD will be released on December 27, 2011. So don’t take my word for it, check the film out and judge for yourself! 🙂

  18. Peter Dinklage is amazing. Certainly one of the ten best working American actors!

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