||Gerald Shapiro and Peter Riegert have strung together various bits from Shapiro’s collection “Bad Jews and Other Stories” to fashion their script for “King of the Corner,” which Riegert also directed and stars in, and their method shows in the picture’s patchwork, episodic quality. The movie also has a laid-back, hesitant, rather rumpled style that mirrors Riegert’s persona as an actor--and obviously characterizes his inclinations behind the camera as well. But despite a tendency to ramble, which sometimes degenerates into mere clumsiness, and some uncomfortable shifts of tone, overall the picture generates a quiet humor and warmth that are quite appealing.
Riegert plays Leo Spivak, a middle-aged advertising man with an extraordinary aptitude for conducting focus group sessions. But his long-time job at the firm headed by a cold, stern boss (Harris Yulin) isn’t exactly without stress. For some reason he’s been passed over for promotion through the years, and now he’s stuck with an assistant, Ed (Jake Hoffman, Dustin’s son), who may be a bit too ambitious for Leo’s own good. And there are personal problems. Leo travels to the southwest every couple of weeks to visit his cranky, widowed father Sol (Eli Wallach), who insisted on moving to a distant rest home to avoid being a burden but now feels abandoned. His teenage daughter (Ashley Johnson) is going out with a boyfriend he and his rather demanding wife (Isabella Rossellini) isn’t quite sure about and coming home later than she should. And he’s going through a mid-life crisis, most clearly evidenced in his uncontrollable reaction when he accidentally encounters an old classmate (Beverly D’Angelo) while on a business trip and endangers his marriage in the process.
From the viewpoint of audience enjoyment, Leo’s unfolding tribulations have both ups and downs. On the positive side of the ledger are his interaction with Ed (with Hoffman being a nicely disheveled, deadpan presence) and Sol (with Wallach carrying off the cantankerous business nicely). His conversations with a unhappily-named rabbi toward the close (played by Eric Bogosian, looking like an almost perfect stand-in for a young Elliot Gould) are equally good. On the other hand, the domestic business with Rossellini and Johnson, apart from a few nice moments, comes across as stilted, and the entire episode with D’Angelo--except for a good use of an earlier gag about a telephone answering device that uses a voice that sounds like Gregory Peck (provided by comedian-mimic Steve Landesberg)--is uncertainly written and staged. A long speech scene toward the close doesn’t quite work, and is surely overextended. And the culminating crisis involving Yulin is also archly played. One also has to make allowances for the look of the picture: it’s a pretty threadbare production, and the cinematography by Mauricio Rubenstein is most notable for its frequent deficiencies in framing.
But there’s enough pleasure afforded by Wallach, Bogosian, Hoffman, and Rita Moreno as Sol’s erstwhile lady friend Inez, and especially by Riegert, to make one tolerate the flaws. “King of the Corner” doesn’t achieve the quirky charm of Riegert’s best film, Bill Forsythe’s “Local Hero” (1983). But, then, neither have Forsythe’s other pictures.