Small Time (2014)

Small Time (2014)
  • Time: 95 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Joel Surnow
  • Cast: Christopher Meloni, Devon Bostick, Dean Norris


A young guy decides to skip college in favor of joining his father on the lot of his used-car business.


  • “This is the story about my father and the summer we spent together many years ago. It was the summer that changed my life.”

    When using the above quote in a movie (or even worse, it’s spoken by a voice-over) you actually expect a corny story with a moral character about a generation conflict between adolescents and their parents. However, don’t expect too much drama in “Small time” because it’s not that dramatic. To my surprise I thought it was a pleasant film to watch anyway. At times it was quite funny and entertaining. Granted, they’ve indeed incorporated a moral in it. Let’s just say it’s in fact a void story about the necessity of young people to listen to their parents when it’s about significant life lessons. Eventually those parents only wish the best for their children and in the end they surely can help their unruly adolescents with their “taken from life” wise advice.

    Al Klein (Christopher Meloni) and Barbara (Bridget Moynahan), a divorced couple, are being faced with the decision of their son Freddy (Devon Bostick) who no longer wants to go to school. Instead of his pants getting worn out by sitting at a school desk, he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps as a salesman. Al Klein is a second-hand car dealer and runs a business together with his partner Ash Martini (Dean “Under the Dome” Norris). It wasn’t exactly a lucrative enterprise in the beginning. And that’s something Barbara didn’t appreciate very much. The uncertainty and financial instability made her decide to turn her back on Al and start a new life with her former boss Chick (Xander Berkeley). The decision made now by Freddy obviously creates a bit of tension between the two. Freddy probably had a rose-tinted view of it but the start in his father’s business isn’t as easy going as he thought it would be. The first contacts with customers are rather stiff and finally we see a somewhat pathetic little person who’s totally ignored. But his self-confidence grows and he evolves into a slick salesman. The fact there’s also a tad rudeness in play and Freddy’s interacting disrespectful with others, is a thorn in Al’s side.

    “Small Time” is a typical weekend movie that wouldn’t be noticed in the programming of some television channel. It’s such a pedantic film that could perfectly serve as filler for an evangelistic broadcasting. That doesn’t mean that this is an awfully bad movie. To be honest it was pretty entertaining thanks to the chemistry between Al and Ash. The way they apply their selling techniques to persuade customers to buy the car they were interested in, is a joy to watch (I never thought that a hearing aid would be a good attribute for this). They are two crafty salesmen who have developed a well-oiled collaboration over the years. It wouldn’t surprise me if the author of the book “How to sell your mother in law” asked for advice from these two slick salesmen. Only Al thinks certain standards are vital as for example having respect for both the customer and those who work for you. And that’s something that Freddy lacks at times.

    The only thing that bothered me, were the used clich├ęs in this film. But especially Freddy’s abrupt transformation from a rookie without experience into a seasoned seller, I found a bit exaggerated and improbable. Don’t expect an overwhelming message or a breathtaking ending. The only thing noteworthy to mention also, is the small contribution by Amaury Nolasco as the Spanish-speaking mechanic. You see him quickly taking off his work clothes after which he appears in a flashy costume, so he can help out with a sale with Spanish-speaking customers. Only that fragment made it worthwhile to watch the film.

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  • In the opening scene of 2014’s Small Time, Christopher Meloni’s character (Al Klein) and the Dean Norris character (Ash Martini), blackmail a smart aleck teenager into buying a rundown BMW. What an interesting sales technique. And what a hokey, dumb, and conventional farce this flick turned out to be. Note to Meloni: You were so brilliant on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Why would you retire from that show to somehow find your way into a something like this? And note to Bridget Moynahan: Are you that desperate in Hollywood that you would subject yourself to playing a cliched, lonely divorcee via the felonious downgrade that is Small Time? These are some of the questions I pondered while viewing what I like to think of as a sleazy, used car salesmen character study putting first time director Joel Sumow completely in over his head. Granted, there have been a lot of bad movies to come out this year. Small Time just managed to crack my top five.

    Released in the U.S. in April and having its only DVD premiere in the country of Sweden (how random is that), this misguided, coming of age dreck veers toward TV sitcom territory. What’s on screen gives used car salesmen a bad name as it chronicles the father/son relationship between Al Klein (Meloni) and 18 year-old high school graduate, Freddy Klein (Devon Bostick, who appears as a deadpan Jimmy Fallon look-alike here). Al, along with his douchbag assistant (Norris), sell cars by way of being a deceptive jack-ass. His boy, fresh out of high school, decides to forgo his mother’s aspirations of college and work in his father’s low key operation (the film also sites his lack for wanting to be in a fraternity as a reason for this decision). Freddy reluctantly resents his mother’s current husband (Xander Berkeley as Chick) and wants to succeed in the real world as opposed to getting a false education (as he puts it). He then moves in with his father putting a strain on the ex-husband/ex-wife relationship (all the while creating a cocky air in his personality forcing said dad to fire him). Bostick’s character has ways of making more money for his father, is high on selling cars, but has an attitude with the customers and believes that quote unquote, “people are shit”. That puts Al in a precarious position. He eventually buys into the idea of Freddy instead living the life of a college student by hoping he’ll eventually attend any California school (within the Southern region). To say that this film is manipulated by its paint-by-numbers script is an understatement. I wanted to slap the actors across the face and tell them to wait for a better project later on in the year.

    Fubar plot and rote characters aside, the thing that I wondered most about Small Time is this: When the heck does this movie takes place? Throughout its running time, the audience deals with a 1970’s musical soundtrack along with every character dressing like they’re living in the 90’s (that goes for the hairstyles as well). And the automobiles on the used car lot channel a mix of different decades (I think I saw a 1989 Cavalier). But hey, at least the phone concept is consistent (everyone talks on a pay phone and/or landline, not a cell phone). In truth, this is just another stupid independent film (there are so many of them) that tries to be cool, tries to be cute, but just completely flaps in the wind. It’s not the actors/actresses that’s the problem, just the concept. Hypocrisy is a muscular word (what with the Meloni character telling his son it’s okay to force a customer into buying a crap car only to state that his methods are not appropriate). Too bad this thing seems to hammer that notion to levels of utmost absurdity.

    All in all, Small Time is undoubtedly a movie with a “small” brain. Its biggest Achilles heel as that it reeks of obviousness. Here’s hoping the people in Sweden felt the exact same way when it ventured into their neck of the woods.

    Of note: With Small Time, look for one of the most undeveloped roles in screen history. Garcelle Beauvais plays Meloni’s character’s girlfriend and it’s thankless beyond comprehension. I felt sorry for her in threefold fashion. Oh, and just for the record, the director of this formulaic romp was the producer of the hit series, 24. I’m surprised that he didn’t feel compelled to forcefully remove his name from this project.

    Rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars

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