Ever wondered what it was like being in Chicago in the 60s? If this film is any indication, it wasn’t necessarily fun. Dramatic, yes. Deadly, yes. But seemingly never fun. The Chicago of “The Tiki War” is the one just prior to the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. It is also several years deep into the twenty-one year mayoral reign of Richard J. Daley, Sr. Memories of Al Capone and the bloody playground he and his rivals turned the city into still linger for the characters who make up this Minneapolis-shot film noir. More immediate are memories of the days when Havana, Cuba was a free-for-all for the mob and for Americans seeking pelvic-oriented thrills not available in the states.
Stan and Ray are co-owners of a place called The Tiki Room, a nightclub of sorts. And really Stan is just a co-owner of sorts. Ray bought and started the club and brought Stan on because Stan was in desperate need of help and the two had served in the Korean War together. Stan’s the responsible one – an accountant who’s still at the club at 3AM going over receipts. Ray’s more…flighty? A jerk? Definitely irresponsible and definitely up to no good but you won’t find out how so until much later. He’s still at the club too because he’s expecting some “clients”. Unfortunately, he gets a call that his son has been in a car wreck and is at the hospital (note: the foreshadowing here is SO glaringly obvious that the end surprise, the character being surprised, didn’t make sense). Ray leaves Stan to deal with the “clients” while he goes to the hospital for a quick visit. And who are these “clients”? There’s Dionne, a nightclub singer with a wicked heroin addiction. There’s Dominic, her singing partner and sometimes lover who’s engaged to another woman. Then we have Ruby (my fave!!), the widow of Cuban mob kingpin, Eddie Delgado, and owner of the rival nightclub, The Cha. Oh and a cameo by mob kingpin, Don Valdez. Got all that? Great. Now mix them all together and what do you get?
A drama that’s played to melodrama (intentionally or unintentionally, I’m not sure) where oddly, actors seem to stumble over their lines at some points. At other points, actors are standing around with nothing to do while the other actors talk or yell for 5 minutes. All of that was highly distracting. Add into that the fact that some actors were only marginally okay actors and you’d think you’d have a bona fide disaster, right? Well, not entirely. While the acting wasn’t up to par – with the exception of Helen Chorolec as Ruby, she was by far the best in the bunch and the one I couldn’t take my eyes off of – the story itself was interesting. Like I said, a melodramatic drama but one that incorporates a whole lot of talk and ideas into a short span of time, which is mighty impressive. Everything ties together fairly well, even if there are times when what’s happening doesn’t seem entirely plausible (really Stan? You’ve known Ray for how long and you don’t seem to know ANYTHING about him). There’s a few elements of humor thrown in as well in the form of Dionne playing the ditz and a running joke about Stan and an STD (although at first, I thought they were talking about erectile dysfunction…that was a little unclear…).
The music helped to set the mood wonderfully. According to the Tiki War website: “The music of “The TIki War” is influenced in large part by KFAI FM’s Jet Set Planet, which features Rat Packers, jazz masters and easy-listening hacks from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. This Friday-night playback also spins vinyl by Xavier Cugat, Perez Prado and other favorites of Batista-era Havana show rooms. The swinging sounds that fill the soundtrack of The Tiki War are highly reminiscent of Miles Davis and Quincy Jones.”
Writer and director, John Ervin (director of Citizen ‘Caine, Vixen Highway, Made in Berlin and other feature films and live theater shows), was inspired to write The Tiki War screenplay by real-life events of the period. I also wanted to pay tribute to film noir classics of the 1950’s and 1960’s, such as “The Asphalt Jungle”, “The Man With The Golden Arm”, the original “Ocean’s 11”, and the inspired B-movies of director Sam Fuller. And let’s not forget the more recent phenomenon of “Mad Men”.
All in all, if you can lower your expectations just a bit and push aside plausibility for a moment, The Tiki War isn’t a bad way to pass 45 minutes. And if you’re a fan of Mad Men or Breaking Bad, there’s a good chance you’ll REALLY dig this one (I haven’t seen either of those shows so maybe that’s why I liked it but wasn’t overwhelmed). Check out The Tiki War at their website, via Facebook or Twitter, and over at IMDB. There are worse things you could do, trust me.