- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

Two out of four stars

TITLE: "Two Family House"

RATING: R (Occasional profanity, sexual candor and domestic conflict)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Raymond De Felitta

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

The domestic comedy-melodrama "Two Family House" champions a merciful case of adultery. The unassuming and modestly endearing film features a love match, pairing Michael Rispoli as a hard-working, thwarted, lovelorn Staten Island spouse named Buddy Visalo and Kelly Macdonald as an abandoned immigrant mother named Mary O'Neary.

Buddy feels lingering regret over a missed opportunity when he was still a GI at the end of World War II: a possible audition with Arthur Godfrey. The good fortune that smiled on Godfrey vocalist Julius LaRosa before their feud, anyway might have been his.

Cherubic, crooning Buddy allowed himself to be discouraged by fiancee Estelle (Katherine Narducci), later Mrs. Visalo, childless 10 years later and still maddeningly content to go on residing in a bedroom of her parents' dwelling.

Buddy and Estelle must time conjugal interludes to the Perry Como show, which evidently puts the old folks in a temporary trance.

Employed in a machine shop, Buddy has failed at several attempts to start a business of his own. An inheritance suddenly gives him the funds to think big, in a smallish way: Against his wife's objections, he buys a rundown two-story house, intending to live on the top floor while transforming the ground floor into a neighborhood tavern (the zoning is loose enough to permit this), where he can serenade customers to his heart's content.

The first obstacle in his path turns into an unforeseen silver lining. A bad-tempered Irish lush, Jim O'Neary (Kevin Conway), occupies the top floor, with his young and pregnant wife Mary. He refuses to leave, partly to annoy the landlord.

Mary goes into labor on the premises and surly Jim vanishes in the immediate aftermath. Soft-heartened Buddy arranges for Mary to move into a secluded apartment elsewhere in town, intending to subsidize her and the baby for a matter of weeks. The act of generosity blossoms into love, eventually reciprocated by Mary herself.

Time begins to run out on Buddy's double life: he starts working double shifts, cherishing in-between hours that he spends with Mary and the baby. The roof falls in when Estelle catches on.

Confronted with a choice of patching up a loveless marriage or taking a chance on love, Buddy disgraces himself in the eyes of his friends and relatives by choosing love.

The movie, a second feature written and directed by Raymond DeFelitta, who ascribes it to family stories about an unhappy uncle, who never enjoyed the sort of happy ending that the filmmakers contrive for Buddy, has a parlor-game entertainment value for spectators who have been following "The Sopranos."

Several cast members have been prominent in the "Sopranos" ensemble, notably Mr. Rispoli, Vincent Pastore as a bar-owning mentor and the phenomenal Miss Narducci, whose performance as the defiantly stagnating Estelle is the most distinctive and haunting aspect of the production.

So much so that her presence tends to overshadow the benign drift of the plot. Estelle's behavior seems so weirdly self-defeating that it carves out some new niche of domestic perversity: a shrew who doesn't even crave her own home in which to be a tyrant.

She's nursing some magnitude of pride and resentment that might be easier to rationalize in a Greek tragedy.

Although he's a fleeting character, Kevin Conway dominates his scenes in a similar respect. One of the obstacles Mr. De Felitta creates for himself is a poor competitive framework for the love match. The roles of the killjoy mates are so much stronger that it's almost incumbent to get them off the screen or out of town.

Unfortunately, Mr. Rispoli and Miss Macdonald don't share a comical-whimsical rapport adequate to correct the imbalance. If they're eccentrically right for each other, Mr. De Felitta has neglected to write the scenes or conjure up the chemistry needed to justify his partiality. One accepts his fable on faith more than evidence. Not a bad bargain, especially in a week starved for likable movies, but decisive, irresistible charm eludes "Two Family House."

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