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BY: Jay Boyar , Orlando Sentinel , Friday, May 4, 2001 , Metro, Page: 28

REVIEW

'Bobby G. Can't Swim"

Type: REVIEW

`BOBBY G.' CAPTURES MOODS OF LIFE ON FRAYED URBAN FRINGE

It has taken a good 11 months, but Bobby G. is back.

Bobby G. is the main character in Bobby G. Can't Swim, the small, spiffy film that won the grand jury prize for best narrative feature at last year's Florida Film Festival.

Enzian Theater has at last arranged for it to return, beginning today. If you miss it this time around, you have only yourself to blame.

A sometimes-funny, sometimes-tragic, sometimes-both-at-once slice of low-end urban life, it chronicles two days in the wasteful existence of Bobby, a likable small-time pusher who gets in over his head.

John-Luke Montias, who has the title role, is a bit of a one-man band: Not only does he appear in nearly every scene, he also wrote and directed this low-budget wonder.

If Montias had only directed the film, he still would have come off as very talented. As director, writer and star, he's clearly a phenomenon.

What makes his film so remarkable is the way it captures, with unerring accuracy, the shifting moods and rhythms of life on the frayed urban fringe.

For me, it brings to mind snatches of Taxi Driver, Mean Streets and, in its scorched-earth humor, the New York section of Stranger Than Paradise. Watching Bobby G. Can't Swim is like a day trip to a part of a city that none of the tour books brags about.

Every shot is like a postcard from the Underclass Urban Collection.

Bobby deals small amounts of cocaine, but he still seems like a pretty good egg.

Tall, youngish and athletic-looking, with a high forehead and droopy eyes, the guy's a bit of a babe magnet in his part of town. Lucy, his hooker girlfriend, is always getting into fights with Gina, another prostitute, who hops onto his lap whenever it's free.

But, really, just about every woman in this film seems hot for Bobby's bones.

When he's not snuggling up to someone, he's striding around Hell's Kitchen in his T-shirt and slacks, with a crucifix around his neck. Bobby sells $20 bags to regular customers, stopping off for a beer or a baseball game or just to kibitz with the local street people.

A soft touch, Bobby accepts a '50s-era Strike-O-Matic bowling ball from one desperate customer as payment. Later, he chuckles quietly when a friend offers Gina a dollar to expose her derriere, and Gina, a slightly classier act, holds out for two.

Early in the film, a couple of cops stop and search Bobby, forcing him to drop his drawers, undies included, right there on the street. After the cops leave, Bobby's friends laugh at him, the way you might chuckle at a buddy who'd spilled coffee down his pants.

Such casual indignities are just part of the life they've all chosen -- like the smell of urine in the street or the constant sound of the traffic.

What ups the ante for Bobby is a chance to clear a quick 15 grand or so by selling a kilo of cocaine to a friend of a friend. There are huge risks -- to his life and his soul -- involved in such a transaction.

For the moment, however, all Bobby sees are the dollar signs.

The supporting cast of unknowns is terrific. Susan Mitchell, who plays Lucy, offers a poignant portrait of a woman in her 30s who yearns to pack in her rotten life and return to her mother's home in Puerto Rico.

Donna Sonkin, as the other hooker, is memorably whacked-out. And Norman Milton, as a blind street vendor with a strangely high voice and a chipper perspective, also sticks in the mind, as does Vincent Vega as Bobby's cranky connection.

But, of course, the film hinges on the performance of Montias himself, a tour de force that ranges from high-spirited humor to utter desolation.

You feel Bobby's lows all the more powerfully because Montias makes him so sympathetic. Bobby's style is both working class and entrepreneurial, a poor man's cross between Seinfeld's Kramer and The Honeymooner's Norton, only real and deeper.

That crucifix dangling from his neck is a sign of the soul that he hopes not to lose.

Reprinted by permission of The Orlando Sentinetal. Review © THE ORLANDO SENTINEL and may not be republished without permission.

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