Film Review: Lost Cat Corona

A wandering pet prompts a hectic day of hand-wringing and soul-searching in this underwhelming shaggy-dog comedy that’s elevated by a charming cast of colorful character actors.
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Anthony Tarsitano’s Lost Cat Corona is a rambling, lighthearted comedy that’s occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but even though it’s much better than its Blockbuster-era poster or ex-B-list cast might suggest, it isn’t as affecting as it could be, given its decent script and good intentions. Set entirely in the scrappy borough of Queens, New York, the film is warmly committed to exploring the lives of relatable, if highly idiosyncratic, regular New Yorkers who aren’t all billionaire playboys or superheroes, or superhero billionaire playboys. Instead, the film follows Ralph Macchio’s earnest sad-sack, Dominic, a somewhat happily married, childless construction worker forced to spend a fine spring day searching for a lost black cat: Leonard, the cherished pet of Dom’s nagging wife, Connie (Gina Gershon).

Seriously questioning his tendency to kowtow to Connie, and almost anyone else with a strong personality, Dominic nevertheless takes off on Connie’s bike to scour their Corona neighborhood for Leonard. Dominic’s supportive but not terribly helpful buddy Ponce, amusingly played by David Zayas (“Dexter,” The Expendables), tags along on his shiny red scooter to help Dom navigate an insane afternoon that only gets started with the two pals discovering a bloody wad of cash and a severed ear inside a brown paper bag. In true After Hours fashion, Dominic’s misadventures through the bodegas and back-alleys of Queens—during which he runs into or afoul of palookas with names like Sal, Sue and Jimmy Pipes—grow ever more precarious, escalating to a genuinely surprising scene involving Dominic and a stolen gun.

Adopting the loose, multi-tasking structure of lesser Tarantino ensemble knockoffs, Tarsitano’s picture introduces a Seinfeld-ian world of outer-borough Joes and ladies whose seemingly disparate paths collide with Dominic’s under some startling, and some meh-inducing, circumstances. The bouncy soundtrack and multiple storylines suggest a madcap comedy that might have benefited from tighter editing and more rigorous direction. Macchio delivers a natural, low-key performance but in the long run doesn’t convey the gravitas of what essentially becomes a story about Dominic’s quest to reclaim (or finally discover) his “manhood,” or in more generous terms, to search within for a source of strength and conviction. That Dom considers finding it in the cold, steel grip of a gun is intended as a serious wallop that lands more like a slap on the wrist. It doesn’t help Macchio’s case that the actor (John D’Leo) playing young Dominic in nicely evocative flashbacks has a deeper voice than the erstwhile Karate Kid.

Gina Gershon doesn’t exactly disappear into the role of Connie either, so it’s really up to the film’s supporting cast to carry the day. To the credit of Tarsitano and his casting team, the film is a prime showcase for the soulful faces, accents and attitudes of native New Yorkers, as reflected in the city’s awesome community of character actors. Not unlike a typical episode of the famous Big Apple-set sitcom about nothing, a diverse parade of character specialists roll through to steal the spotlight from the stars, from screen and TV vet Jeff Kober, who supplies ample tough-guy tension as Sue, a lifelong low-level hood with a hair-trigger temper, to Barbara Rosenblat (“Orange Is the New Black”’s dearly departed “Miss Rosa”) as Connie’s hard-to-please mother. The one-and-only “Luke Duke,” Tom Wopat, delivers perhaps the film’s most powerfully emotional moment as down-on-his-luck war vet Jimmy Pipes.

More often than not, however, Tarsitano’s script, while flourishing in its comical moments, flounders in its attempts to mine nuggets of emotional depth from Dominic’s faintly rendered midlife crisis. And the search for Leonard doesn’t play as the most compelling through-line for the plot. The makers of “Seinfeld” were able to get away with a half-hour sitcom about nothing, but stretched to feature length, the concept collapses right at its height, like an overdone soufflé.

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