2 Days in the Valley (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The success of Pulp Fiction must have been a liberating thing for many in the industry, including writer/director John Herzfeld. Herzfeld had been in the industry for about a quarter of a century when he made this movie, and his only theatrical feature film was made 13 years earlier  - something called Two of a Kind, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, and featuring Gene Hackman as God. I'm not kidding. I haven't seen Two of a Kind, but I guess it must be just about as good as it sounds, because it scores in the Ed Wood range at IMDb, with 3.7/10.

Herzfeld must have looked at Short Cuts (1993) and Pulp Fiction (1994) and thought "I can do that". So he did, and he did it well, despite having produced nothing in his previous decades in the industry that would show him capable of this film. 2 Days in the Valley is one part Tarantino and one part Altman, but Herzfeld has more heart than either of those directors. From Tarantino, Herzfeld got the strange combination of violence and comedy, and the admixture of cosmic or life-endangering events (murder and kidnap plots) with everyday dialogue about food and pets and other mundane matters. From Altman, he got the general feel of a large ensemble cast of superb actors playing interesting characters, in a plot in which none of them can emerge as a star, but all can shine in their moments. I guess that Danny Aiello has the most important role, but I wouldn't call him the star. There is no star. It is true ensemble acting.

The storyline follows the lives of two hit men and the other people involved in their crime, like their client and the investigating detectives. First we see the assassins commit their crime. Then we see one hit man shoot the other. Some planted evidence makes the dead hit man seem to be the only killer, and the other hit man walks away scot-free. Seems neat enough.

Except for one nagging detail. The dead killer is not dead at all.

He was saved by a protective vest, and now must flee for his life. He ends up taking refuge in the home of a whiny rich art dealer and his devoted secretary. They are eventually joined by the art dealer's sister and a suicidal movie director. So the runaway would-be hit man suddenly finds himself with four hostages.

Meanwhile, the other hit man and his moll get together with their client, who turns out to be a woman who ordered the original hit on her husband in order to collect on a fat insurance policy. The squabbles and in-fights of these baddies also touch upon a vice detective who really wants to be in homicide, and turns out to be much too eager about investigating the crime, because he gets so close the truth that the hit man wants him out of the way.


Charlize Theron exposes her breasts in a sex scene.

The lives of those characters keep winding together in very artful ways, so that we can see that the two hit men must inevitably confront each other one more time. It's a clever script. Oh, it sounds contrived on paper, but you'll have no trouble forgiving that as you watch it because of the sheer entertainment value of the film, and the emotional rewards it supplies. Although it is filled with violence and cruelty, it also provides a very satisfying and almost too sentimental denouement for the characters who seem to deserve good luck.

20-year-old Charlize Theron got her very first credit in this film, playing an ice cold Swedish gun moll, with nothing on her mind but sex and murder. Charlize's acting career has taken a radically different turn since this movie, so it is a lot of fun to look back on this earlier period, to see her playing an evil woman and doing explicit sex scenes. She also does a memorable catfight with Teri Hatcher.

Danny Aiello is very amusing as the hit man who gets set up as a patsy and narrowly escapes dying himself. He plays this character as a remarkably human person, a guy who could easily be your uncle. His pride is wounded because he had been working at a pizza parlor before being called out of retirement for a last contract kill. He stops everything to adjust his bad toupee. He is afraid of dogs. He is so hungry that he cooks himself a gourmet meal while holding a gun on his hostages. He rightfully chastises the rich man for failing to respect and cherish his secretary.

Most of the other characters are drawn with similar depth, especially Eric Stoltz as the naive cop who really wants to get into the homicide division, and director Paul Mazursky, who's playing a washed-up and suicidal director.

DVD info from Amazon

not a very good DVD

  • there is a widescreen version, but it is letterboxed, and the transfer is not especially good

  • no meaningful features

I must be director Herzfeld's biggest fan, because I seem to like this movie more than anyone else does, and I was about the only person in the world who thought his follow-up, 15 Minutes, was very close to genius, a skillful blend of action film and social satire. I believe I wrote that it was "the brilliant satire which Natural Born Killers should have been." Chances are you won't like his films as much as I do, but I recommend them for fans of Tarantino and/or Altman.

The Critics Vote

  • General panel consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $11 million domestically.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. It was not a big hit, but has developed a cult following on video. If you like Short Cuts and/or Pulp Fiction, it is your kind of film.

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