‘Loosies’: Confidence game

January 13, 2012

Peter Facinelli looks a little like the young Tom Cruise: same slightly rabbity smile that radiates a sense of both supreme confidence and gnawing insecurity.

Facinelli has a wider face with more prominent cheekbones but he has the same athletic physicality and a looseness that Cruise has lost. Forget the weirdly anesthetized version of Facinelli in the “Twilight” series. Instead, watch Facinelli on the Showtime series “Nurse Jackie” to get a sense of his comic timing and his ability to play the butt of jokes.

Or watch him in the indy film “Loosies,” opening in limited release (Jan. 11), which Facinelli stars in, wrote and produced. He had the good sense to bring Michael Corrente aboard to direct, which gives “Loosies” a street edge it might have lacked and which keeps it from being just another tale of a criminal’s redemption.

The criminal, in this case, is Bobby (Facinelli), a pickpocket who works all over Manhattan, riding the subways, cruising the touristy sections of Wall Street, Grand Central and elsewhere, deftly dipping into purses and pockets, even as he seemingly is offering directions or apologizing for bumping into someone. He turns in his spoils to Jax (Vincent Gallo), Fagin to Bobby’s Artful Dodger – and the man who holds the note on the huge gambling debt Bobby’s late father left behind.

As the movie opens, Bobby is seen casually sneaking out of the bed of a young woman, Lucy (Jaimie Alexander). But it’s only several scenes into the movie before the audience – and Bobby – sees her again, when he bumps into her in the Financial District.

She recognizes him first, but he plays along: He meant to call, yada yada – until she points out that the cell number he gave her was dead when she tried to reach him and that he never did, in fact, call. Then she drops the bombshell: She is three months’ pregnant and the child is his.

As it happens, Bobby is fed up with the life he’s in and hoping to start fresh. In what? He doesn’t know – but he sees this as a turning point. He follows up, chases her down to the bar where she worked when they met. He eventually convinces her that he wants to man up and be part of her decision of what to do with the child.

But even as he tries to figure out a new direction for his life, a net is closing on him. A few days earlier, he picked the pocket of a police detective (Michael Madsen) and stole his badge; worse, he’s been flashing it around, using it to scam free taxi rides. So the cop is on his trail – and keeps getting closer and closer to Bobby.

Like most movies about criminals trying to play the angles, this one is like a math equation, one you assume you’ll figure out. That’s because Facinelli’s script can’t avoid some of the many clichés about the criminal trying to turn over a new leaf, trying to escape the old life into the new.

Some of the familiar moments seem exactly that: like clichés that Facinelli (and Corrente) couldn’t avoid. Yet Facinelli is a facile enough actor to keep the viewer involved – and he has enough depth to make the viewer care. Plus, he’s come up with an ending that’s surprising enough to redeem the film’s less original moments.

Sure, there are quibbles about the story – like the fact that, even as the Madsen character closes in on Facinelli, he’s not smart enough to detail a couple of the cops accompanying him to watch the back door – three times.

But Facinelli and Alexander are an engaging couple and Gallo is a scary guy. It’s always fun to see Joe Pantoliano in a semi-benign role, as a guy who falls for Facinelli’s widowed, bingo-playing mother.

“Loosies” (the term applied to single cigarettes sold illegally; it’s also Alexander’s character’s name) is far from perfect. But it’s just smart enough to keep you plugged in and not make you regret investing time.

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