Written & directed by John Herzfeld

Starring James Spader, Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Teri Hatcher, Glenne Headly, Marsha Mason, Eric Stoltz, Charlize Theron, Paul Mazursky, Peter Horton.

"2 days in the Valley"

Opened: Sept. 27, 1996 | Rated: R

Two unhappy cops, a small-time hood, an assassin, an Olympic skier, a suicidal actor and a snobbish art dealer are the spokes of the wheel that turns around an unexplained murder in "2 days in the Valley."

Sort of "Pulp Fiction" meets "The Player," this is a smart, dark comedy that isn't quite so dark simply because it takes place in "The Valley," that legendary land of, like, sun and fun, where even murder is met with a smile.

Opening with a hit executed by a controlled assassin (James Spader) and his hapless accomplice (Danny Aiello), within ten minutes we're introduced to eight unrelated characters that all eventually play a part in the case.

There's the effervescent vice cop (Eric Stoltz) who is just giddy to work in homicide, and his decidedly dejected partner (Jeff Daniels).

There's the not-so-innocent girlfriend of the victim (Teri Hatcher from "The New Adventures of Superman") and the nowhere-near-innocent girlfriend of the killer (film rookie Charlize Theron, a vixenish Ashley Judd look-alike). And the list goes on.

The murder leads to Spader trying to kill his partner, Aiello, who gets away and hides out in the ritzy home of an art dealer while holding the rude home-owner and his doormat secretary hostage.

Meanwhile on the other side of town, the art dealer's sister (Marsha Mason), a nurse, takes in a suicidal, down on his luck actor (Paul Mazursky).

Somehow all of this is interesting while none of it makes sense until the stories start to converge an hour into the film, which is a credit to writer-director John Herzfeld. He keeps "2 days in the Valley" ticking while unraveling multiple stories only a tidbit at a time. And he weans a number of notable performances from some of the business's better actors.

Spader is disturbing, exacting and a little bit Travolta as an assassin who likes to play with his prey. Aiello is in his element as the somewhat clumsy, soft-hearted henchman. Stoltz, Daniels and Hatcher and Glenne Headly, as the put-upon secretary, all play like central characters in their own stories, unaware of their role in the bigger picture.

But in places Herzfeld is ham-handed with his spotlighting of technique over substance.

"2 days" has a great girlie cat fight, a slow-motion death scene and other cliches that play like the director is showing off what he learned in film school.

He also throws in, for good measure, some knowing knocks at Hollywood's heartlessness -- the unemployed actor uses his once-coveted Emmy as a toilet paper holder.

As a joy ride, "2 days in the Valley" is like a drive down Sunset Boulevard in a convertible Cadillac -- so very Valley, it's shallow but fun. If you start to dissect it however, what seems complicated in context is a little too simple in execution and has a number of loose ends.

"2 days" is a movie any film studies student who can point a camera could make. Worth seeing? Yes. But wholly forgettable.

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