Written by and starring Scott Caan, son of the great James Caan who played Sonny in “The Godfather,” “One Day as a Lion” is a fun, laconic, low-budget ensemble crime comedy, wherein everything is highly subject to multiple attacks of Murphy’s Law. Caan wrote a nice part for himself. This is Caan’s fourth produced screenplay.
Jackie Powers (Caan) is an ex-boxer desperately in need of money. He’s been given the goon job of debt-collecting (or, failing that, killing the debtor) from a curmudgeonly, stubborn old cowboy named Walter Boggs (J.K. Simmons), who owes 100 large to local crime boss Pauly Russo (Frank Grillo). If Jackie whacks Walter, Pauly will pay for the attorney Jackie needs to help get his 15-year-old son Billy (Dash Melrose) out of juvenile detention.
So Boggs rides into town on a horse (this all takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma). This confuses Jackie, sitting in his black ’70 GTO, waiting for just such an occasion, but who wasn’t expecting this mode of transportation from Boggs. Jackie becomes quite rattled. He cries and sniffles a bit in his car due to the immense stress. Then he rousts himself, slaps a huge Yosemite Sam-style fake moustache on his face to conceal his identity, and strides into the roadside diner where Boggs is having coffee.
Things to do not go as planned. Jackie botches the job, accidentally shoots the cook in the head, lets Boggs get away, and then decides to kidnap Lola the sullen, snide waitress who has just surreptitiously spit in the rude Mr. Bogg’s coffee (Marianne Rendón).
But Jackie’s not talented at kidnapping either, and eventually confesses to Lola that he’s doing all this bad stuff because he needs money to hire a lawyer.
Lola’s quite resourceful. After her initial eye-rolling disdain for Jackie’s ineptness recedes, and she recognizes him for the golden-hearted, hapless buffoon that he is, she suggests they pose as an engaged couple.
This way, they can possibly convince Lola’s cantankerous, wealthy mom Valerie (Virginia Madsen) who’s been dubbed “The Black Widow” because she’s outlived four husbands, that they’re getting married, and, per a particular stipulation in mom’s will, they might be able to get their hands on Lola’s inheritance early.
And then they’d be able to afford both a lawyer for Jackie, and Lola’s dream to get back to Costa Rica and re-open her acting school. Yes, you read that right: an acting school in Costa Rica. But Mr. Murphy, founder of the Law of Chaos, is hanging around …
This farce has its characters working at cross-purposes across the board; mobster Pauly is not happy with henchman Dom (George Carroll) for putting stupid Jackie on the job. Dom, who came up in the juvenile detention system with Jackie, is not happy with Jackie for Jackie’s raging ineptitude, but also because Dom has been messing around with Jackie’s ex, Taylor (Taryn Manning).
The plot, while twisty, is not all that intriguing; it’s really more the fun the actors have with their roles, along with slightly outlandish costume choices—like J.K. Simmons as a thoroughly unflappable rancher dressed shamelessly like a Manhattan West Village-style Halloween parade cowboy (but who takes it very seriously) and, as mentioned, rides his trusty steed to the local diner to get a cup of coffee.
Then there’s Madsen as the perennially peevish mother in her hospital bed in full makeup with a head-full of 1950’s style curlers in her hair. And Rendón as the grumpy, disgusted rich girl working for tips in a greasy spoon, with a classic Gen Z understanding of what it means to be gainfully employed.
Grillo is fairly funny as the former Brooklyn mob wiseguy, who’s semi-retired to Tulsa, and feels himself becoming ineffectual when faced with a highly determined cowpoke.
Caan, a former Hollywood brat, seems to now have finally come into his own and is at long last escaping his father’s long shadow. He’s delightful as the clueless loser with the shockingly dedicated sense of responsibility for his son, who also surprises with occasional flashes of great wisdom and insight, as well as a hilarious ability to charm, schmooze, and manipulate people into doing his bidding, while not being fully cognizant of the fact that that’s what he’s up to.
Caan has definitely earned his place at the table; this is not his father’s showbiz. Back when Caan the elder was acting, all you had to do was wait for a phone call from your agent. Those days a long gone; now you have to write, produce, and often direct the vehicle that allows you to do some acting. Caan the younger is good at this. Hope to see more soon.
You can see “One Day as a Lion” on Apple TV, YouTube, or Vudu.
‘One Day as a Lion’
Director: John Swab
Starring: Scott Caan, J.K. Simmons, Frank Grillo, Marianne Rendón, Virginia Madsen, Taryn Manning, George Carroll, Dash Melrose
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Release Date: April 4, 2023 (limited theater release)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars