J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cash Only: Where Hope and Livable Apartments are in Equally Short Supply

Want to avoid foreclosure? Then pay your mortgage. Look, nobody wants to sound like Marie Antoinette, but the financial crisis has been widely used as a pretext to shield the irresponsible from their due consequences. Elvis Martini is a perfect example. There is no situation he cannot make demonstrably worse in Malik Bader’s Cash Only (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Martini is the owner-super of a rather rundown apartment complex in metro Detroit’s Albanian-immigrant neighborhood. He is about to lose the property to foreclosure because all his income has gone to service the vig he foolishly took on from a local loan shark. Most of his tenants are even more down-on-their luck than he is, but at least they mostly pretend to feel bad about it.

Rolexa is a hardcase exception. Long past due on her rent, the street walker is openly contemptuous of Martini and conspicuously neglectful of her young son. Having had more than enough of her, Martini locks her out and plans to sell what he can to cover her past rent. However, when he comes across a stash of what must be ill-gotten underworld cash, he quickly applies it too his voluminous debts. Obviously, that is an incredibly bad long-term decision. Before long, Rolexa turns up dead and Martini’s daughter Lena has been kidnapped, forcing him to launch a desperate fund-raising scheme.

Believe it or not, Cash Only might play better outside of the City precisely because we are so profoundly real estate-obsessed here. Since most of us are so familiar with the challenges of apartment hunting, we will want to see how Martini deals with the aftermath of his big con, but those scenes are not there to be seen. Instead, we are just left with our unresolved empathy.

Be that as it may, Martini will have viewers pulling out their hair due to general vexation with his short-sightedness, regardless of what city they live in. Man, when you are in a hole that deep, stop digging. Granted, there is something tragically realistic about his self-defeating behavior, up to a point, but someone as street smart as he should know better than taking money stolen from the Albanian mob.

Still, Bader and screenwriter-lead actor Nickola Shreli give us a vivid sense of this deeply depressed Wayne County setting and it isn’t pretty. Frankly, it makes stealing from organized crime look reasonable, because what’s to lose? More of this? Shreli himself is also a charismatically meatheadish screen presence, even when inducing face-palms.

Cash Only desperately wants to be considered “relevant,” but it is really just a reflection of some admittedly dreadful localized circumstances. The local color is compelling, but the whole time viewers will be wondering hasn’t he seen A Simple Plan? Gritty but ultimately frustrating, Cash Only opens tomorrow (5/13) in New York, at the Cinema Village.