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PEOPLE I KNOW **


CAST: Al Pacino, Kim Basinger, Ryan O’Neal, Tea Leoni, Richard Schiff, Bill Nunn, Robert Klein, Mark Webber

DIRECTOR: Dan Algrant

The streets are teeming with violence, narcissistic celebs and parasitic politicians are kissing up to one another, an African-American man of God battles a wealthy, influential Jew for a slice of the urban pie, playgirls engage in all-night orgies with city officials at a chic downtown sex club, and the mayor swindles the people who voted for him. Worst of all, a drug-fueled press agent who has been paid by his client--a macho movie star with senatorial ambitions—to watch over a flaky starlet has come out of a stupor just in time to see a thug administer a fatal overdose to that very same starlet.

Into what fresh hell have we stumbled? Don’t be silly. It’s New York, New York, and if you can’t get violated here, you can can’t get violated anywhere. That may or may not be the message of Dan Algrant’s frenzied, murky, paranoiac, poison-pen write-off of what is arguably America’s greatest city. And to think director Algrant and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz got the movie all wrapped up and ready to go just in time for 9/11/01. A miracle of timing for the creative team and for Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein it was not, and so the movie that dares to call New York a cesspool landed on the Miramax shelf. Until now.

The true miracle is that "People I Know," for all its morbid, melodramatic excess, is immensely watchable, sometimes hypnotically so. You can feel the sleaze, smell the corruption, experience the high of literally getting away with murder. You may be left breathless and more than a bit bewildered by the twists and turns of Baitz’s "there’s a dangerous deviate round every corner in Manhattan" plot, but you really won’t be bored. In its own perverse way, this harrowing hybrid of sermon and thriller rocks.

It’s been said that the character of Eli Wurman is patterned after Bobby Zarem. I don’t know what Zarem--a Southern Jew who earned a law degree from Harvard and became a powerful New York publicist--ever did to deserve being mentioned in the same sentence with the pathetic sell-out played by Al Pacino. Zarem, of course, denies any connection to the character, and who can blame him? What can be said with certainty is that unsinkable Al, with his inimitable eye-popping, slouching and slurring, adds still another memorable portrait to his gallery of bone-weary losers who might be winners if only they could get a good night’s sleep. And it’s good to see Ryan O’Neal sink his pearly whites into the role of a vain, manipulative matinee idol whose star is very much on the wane. Kim Basinger, sweetly plaintive as the widow of Wurman’s brother, is equally welcome.

Any resemblance of the people in this movie to Rudy Giuliani, Al Sharpton and Warren Beatty should probably not be dwelled upon. And, as for me, I happen to like this town.