Review: ‘Clover,’ starring Mark Webber, Jon Abrahams, Nicole Elizabeth Berger, Chazz Palminteri, Tichina Arnold, Erika Christensen and Julia Jones

April 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nicole Elizabeth Berger, Jon Abrahams and Mark Webber in “Clover” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media)

“Clover”

Directed by Jon Abrahams

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed big city in the U.S., the campy crime drama “Clover” has a predominantly white (with some African American and Native American representation) cast of characters involved in the criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: Two Irish American brothers who owe $50,000 to an Italian American crime boss go on the run when they get blamed for the death of the crime boss’ only son, and a teenage girl gets involved in their shenanigans.

Culture Audience: “Clover” will appeal mostly to people looking for a very lowbrow crime caper for escapist entertainment.

Chazz Palminteri in “Clover” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media)

The title of the campy crime drama “Clover” is kind of misleading, because the title character—a teenage girl named Clover—isn’t the main character of the story, and she doesn’t show up until 23 minutes into this 101-minute movie. “Clover” is really about the bickering Irish American fraternal twin brothers who are at the center of the movie and whose actions propel almost everything that happens in the story.

Mickey (played by Jon Abrahams, who directed “Clover) and Jackie (played by Mark Webber) are the owners of a seedy bar, which they inherited from their late father. Their mother has also passed away. From the get go, viewers see that the brothers are complete opposites and they don’t get along with each other. Mickey is the responsible brother who has more common sense, while Jackie is the screw-up brother who makes a lot of dumb decisions.

One of these dumb decisions is Jackie losing $50,000 in a blackjack game, when the money was supposed to go to repaying a debt that the brothers owe to local crime boss Tony Davallo (played by Chazz Palminteri, in yet another gangster role). When Mickey finds out, he and Jackie into a knock-down, drag-out fight before heading to Tony’s lair (a bar located in the basement of a bowling alley) to tell him that they don’t have the money and hope that they don’t get assaulted or worse by Tony’s goons.

Tony is every bit the stereotypical crime boss that’s been portrayed in dozens of movies and TV shows. He’s angry that the brothers don’t have his money, but he makes them a deal: He’ll erase the debt if Mickey and Jackie accompany Tony’s only son Joey (played by Michael Godere) to collect a debt from another deadbeat, who owes $80,000 to Tony.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just collecting a debt. Mickey knows it, and senses that they’re about to get involved in a violent crime, even though Joey (a cocaine-snorting thug) not very convincingly denies it. Mickey tries to talk his way out of going, but he and Jackie don’t have much of a choice, so they go with Joey and break into the man’s home.

The guy who owes Tony the $80,000 debt is named Barry (played by Sky Paley), and he’s surprised by this late-night break-in. In short order, Barry is brought down to a basement, tied up, and beaten by Joey, who then shoots and kills Barry, as horrified Mickey and Jackie look on. A fight ensues because the brothers don’t want to be involved in a murder. Joey loses his grip on his gun, and the next thing you know, Joey is shot dead by a girl wearing a hoodie, who says she’s Barry’s 13-year-old daughter Clover.

Mickey and Jackie know that Tony will blame them for Joey’s death. Meanwhile, Clover (played by Nicole Elizabeth Berger) thinks that Mickey and Jackie killed Barry, even though they tell her that Joey really committed the murder. Clover doesn’t seem to know what’s the truth. So, in order for her not to go to the police, Mickey and Jackie force Clover to go on the run with them, which takes up nearly the rest of the movie. And where is Clover’s mother? She tells Jackie and Mickey that her mother is dead, but that might or might not be true.

“Clover” is the type of silly “mobsters are after us” movie that has a lot of gun shootouts where people corner each other with guns, but then stand around talking and insulting each other before anyone actually starts shooting. Mickey, Jackie and Clover’s panicky race to outrun and hide from Tony and his henchmen take them to different places during the course of the movie.

The first place they run to is a bar owned by a tough-as-nails family friend named Pat (played by Tichina Arnold), where they barely escape when Tony’s thugs catch up to them there. Somehow, Mickey (who’s supposed to be the smart brother) is shocked that the thugs would think of tracking them down at the bar, even though it’s owned by a known family friend of the brothers. Yes, it’s not a good idea to try and hide at the most obvious places.

Another hideout that the brothers try is the apartment of Jackie’s ex-girlfriend Angie (played by Jessica Szohr). She’s reluctant to help them at first, but she takes pity on Clover. Angie also still has feelings for dimwitted Jackie (of course she does), so that’s why Angie ends up driving with all of them in her car to go where they need to go. They also stop along the way at the home of their childhood friend Stevie (played by Johnny Messner), a cop whose father co-founded the bar with the father of Mickey and Jackie.

For people who are trying to lay low and hide, they sure are hopping all over town. Mickey, Jackie, Clover and Angie then end up in an abandoned train station (where the pace of the movie starts to drag for a while), which is the scene of another unrealistic shootout. And then there’s another stop, this time at an abandoned warehouse occupied by Mickey and Jackie’s loopy cousin Terry (played by Jake Weber), who has escaped from a psychiatric institution. The scenes with Terry have the best comedy in the movie, which isn’t saying much because “Clover” isn’t exactly a treasure trove of clever and funny dialogue.

Also in the mix are female assassins Gertie (played by Erika Christensen) and Virginia (played by Julia Jones), a lesbian couple who argue over things like whether or not coal fire or wood fire is better for making pizza or burning bones. Gertie and Virginia are hired by Tony to find Mickey and Jackie. They are ruthless, cold and calculating—making them possibly more dangerous than Tony’s bumbling thugs.

And there’s another character, who’s seen only in the beginning and end of the film: a mysterious wealthy guy named Mister Wiley (played by Ron Perlman, who clearly had fun hamming it up with this over-the-top character) whose connection to the story is made clear at the very end. The only thing that viewers really see of Mister Wiley in the beginning is that he’s a mean-spirited control freak who yells at a house employee for entering a meeting room he’s in when the door was closed. He also says things like, “The pecking order must not be disrupted or else we will have chaos.”

To its credit, “Clover” doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the screenplay by Michael Testone is still so awful (including the story’s big plot twists) that viewers might find themselves laughing at scenes that weren’t really intended to be funny. “Clover” takes place in the present day, but it also tries to have a 1970s vibe. The soundtrack tunes from little-known artists such as Charles Bradley and El Michels Affair try to evoke the same aura as gritty crime movies that Al Pacino or Pam Grier would’ve starred in the mid-1970s. However, the ’70s-styled retro music choices would work better for a movie that’s more authentic than “Clover” is, because “Clover” is about as realistic as a “Ren & Stimpy” cartoon.

With “Clover,” Abrahams shows that he can capably direct himself in a movie—he’s the best actor out of the characters who are on the run from crime boss Tony—and the action scenes are adequate, but they’re often ruined by the terrible and corny dialogue. The well-known veteran actors in the cast don’t really add much substance, because they’re playing character types they’ve played many times before—”angry crime boss” for Palminteri; “menacing villain” for Perlman; and “tough-talking woman” for Arnold.

As bad as “Clover” is, it isn’t the worst movie someone can see all year—and that’s mostly because the film’s main actors are at least compatible with their roles. The movie’s appeal certainly isn’t in its poorly written, clunky screenplay that tries to throw in a few curveballs to make it look a lot smarter than it really is. “Clover” is the kind of movie that people can watch if they’re extremely bored and want to see a movie where intelligence is not required.

Freestyle Digital Media released “Clover” on digital and VOD on April 3, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘The Place of No Words’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

The Place of No Words
Mark Webber and Bodhi Palmer in “The Place of No Words”

“The Place of No Words”

Directed by Mark Webber

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

If you want to sit through a 95-minute family home movie with the production values of a drama-student program and artsy pretensions about death, then step right up and get ready to experience “The Place of No Words” from writer/director/star Mark Webber. The movie goes back and forth between parallel worlds—one world takes place in the present day, while the other is a fantasy realm inhabited by creatures that look like rejects from Spike Jonze’s 2009 movie “Where the Wild Things Are,” as well as fairies, witches and knights.

The film’s story centers on a family, played by Webber, his real-life wife (Australian actress Teresa Palmer) and their eldest child (Bodhi Palmer). All of their characters in the movie’s modern-day world have the same first names. In the movie’s fantasy world, Mark and son Bodhi (who’s 3 years old in the movie) are supposed to be Vikings of some sort, and they spend a lot of time walking together through woods, where they occasionally encounter the aforementioned mystical creatures. The fantasy world isn’t completely in the dark ages because Viking Mark uses his smartphone to take photos after a fairy named Esmerelda (played by Nicole Elizabeth Berger) leads him and Bodhi into a scenic area in the woods. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Bodhi is an angelic-looking child, whose long blonde hair gives him a deliberately androgynous look. (Webber and Palmer have told the media that they’re raising their children as gender-neutral.) Bodhi is curious, intelligent and a little rebellious, and he adeptly handles what appears to be a lot of improvised dialogue. But when the movie’s press notes describe Bodhi as giving a “tour-de-force performance” in the film, that’s a sign that perhaps Webber is being too much a proud stage dad to notice that this movie is a self-indulgent bore that was obviously made to showcase his family instead of offering quality entertainment.

“The Place of No Words” attempts to answer a question that Bodhi asks in the beginning of the film: “Where do we go when we die?” It’s eventually revealed that modern-day Mark in the movie is a father who has the kind of illness (which is not named in the film) that requires him to be in a hospital bed with an IV tube stuck in his arm. There are enough scenes in the movie to signal that his illness is terminal, and everyone in the family is going through various emotions because of it.

The fantasy sequences are clearly a reflection of the way the real-world characters are coping with his illness. This might be a high concept, but the film’s cheesy production values (including 1980s-level visual effects and the fantasy-world costumes that look like they were borrowed from a high school) are distinctly lowbrow even for an average low-budget film. The film’s sloppy-cheap look might have been a deliberate choice since the movie tries really hard to be the type of cool-ironic indie film that will be praised as “edgy.” Instead, the “edgy” humor that the movie attempts sometimes goes into “Jackass” territory, such as a sequence whose details are too gross to mention here, but it involves farting, excrement and the use of the word “Uranus” as a pun.

Disgusting anus gimmicks aside, “The Place of No Words” has Mark and Bodhi’s relationship at the heart of the movie. Wife/mother Teresa is almost there as a sidekick to either play with Bodhi or comfort her husband. The supporting characters are somewhat forgettable, but that might be because the cheap costumes they have to wear are very distracting from what they say in the movie, which isn’t anything substantial. The aforementioned “Where the Wild Things Are” wannabe gnome-like creatures are a father-and-son team that some might interpret as being a weird monster manifestation of Mark and Bodhi as adults.

“The Place of No Words” isn’t the worst movie you could ever see, but its intentions to make a thoughtful commentary on death are so badly handled that it’s disappointing and might be offensive to some people. Any messages that the movie had about dying are overshadowed by the real intention of the movie, which seems to be director Webber casting his adorable son in the film to make him a star.

UPDATE: Gravitas Ventures will release “The Place of No Words” on digital and VOD on October 23, 2020.