- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Eddie Miller has laid his life on the line every day for the past 30 years.As a traveling salesman hawking fine diamonds, he must keep the goods, which he calls "the line," by his side to make sure they are safe.
Now, with his health failing, his bosses want to replace him with a brash trainee whose boorish ways contradict Eddie's low-key salesmanship. His livelihood, and the line he swore to protect, rest in the hands of a brash upstart who has trouble holding a diamond steady in his hand.
So starts "Diamond Men," a crafty if ultimately disappointing independent feature from first-time director Daniel M. Cohen. The film stars undervalued character actor Robert Forster and former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg, who combine to invest this buddy/coming-of-age vehicle with plenty of pathos.
Mr. Forster's minimalist approach is perfect for the strait-laced Eddie, while Mr. Wahlberg makes for a compelling counterpoint. The latter's ebullient turn should help him shed his boy-band background, as well as the shadow cast by brother Mark ("Rock Star," which also opens today).
What begins as an honest account of a generational baton passing, though, changes maddeningly midfilm into a hackneyed theft and romance caper and a perfunctory one at that, most noticeably on the latter front.
The turn fractures the bond that Mr. Cohen, who also wrote the screenplay, so meticulously builds with his audience.
"Diamond Men" opens with Eddie crumpling to the ground outside his car and a heart attack halting his unblemished decades on the road.
He recovers nicely but finds himself an insurance risk to his pragmatic employer.
"I'm a road man. I can't stand behind the counter," he complains to his boss. He is allowed back on the road on the condition that he serve as mentor to a new salesman (Mr. Wahlberg) on the nuances of his beat.
Enter Bobby, a fast-talker with cheap ties and even cheaper sunglasses. He thinks he knows everything he needs to know about sales and sees the road as a chance to exploit lonely young women and patronize agreeable barkeeps.
Eddie knows better. Keeping a low profile is as important in his line of work as building bonds with his mercurial customers.
The wily salesman lives for his routine shining his shoes in the proper fashion, sneaking meals in remote restaurants and making only the necessary stops along the road.
Bobby doesn't sweat those details. If he is hung over, so be it.
The duo's transformation from intergenerational rivals to colleagues is a delicate dance adroitly choreographed by Mr. Cohen.
Eddie lives by the line, but he is also dying by it when Bobby enters his life. What makes their relationship worthy of our attention is the detail Mr. Cohen brings to his road saga.
Eddie can spot potential jewel thieves out of the corner of his eye. He knows how to win his customer's trust without pushing too hard. Slowly, Bobby grows to appreciate his mentor's touch and wants to give something back to him.
Namely, he tries to find a companion for his new friend, who is a widower. The two make frequent trips to a secluded massage parlor, run by Bobby's old flame, Tina (Jasmine Guy).
Eddie's eventual fascination with an older, philosophy-spewing massage therapist, given gumption by little-seen actress Bess Armstrong, begins the film's descent.
Part of the blame goes to a massage parlor concept. Tina's business teems with hookers with hearts of gold, the only cliche older than the buddy road movie.
Through it all, though, Mr. Cohen's script finds the humanity in the small details of Eddie's life. It respects his craft, even if it may seem mundane to most audiences.
The "line" itself is a character in the film, a metaphor for stability, responsibility and an occupation that isn't glamorous but can pay the rent.
"Diamond Men" still has plenty going for it until it stumbles toward a discombobulating conclusion, a head-scratcher of major-league proportions. So many of the truths Mr. Cohen brings to the film dissipate under the strain of a Hollywood ending so chipper it would make the Olsen Twins grimace.
Watching "Diamond Men's" riveting first-half is to be reminded of what independently made movies bring to the industry — integrity, honesty and the keen observations that make film such a palpable experience.
But the film's final reel is equally evocative of just how easy it is to succumb to Hollywood's darker, more routine impulses.

TITLE: "Diamond Men"
RATING: NR (profanity, sexual situations, nudity)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Daniel M. Cohen
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

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