Ice capade

Donnie Wahlberg talks to Robert Forster in <i>Diamond Men</i>: “Hey, uh, this New Kids on the Block reunion’s kinda stiffing. D’ya got any connections with that Paul dude at the Diamond Center?”

Donnie Wahlberg talks to Robert Forster in Diamond Men: “Hey, uh, this New Kids on the Block reunion’s kinda stiffing. D’ya got any connections with that Paul dude at the Diamond Center?”

Rated 4.0

Hollywood is a town in which you can be forgotten while you’re out of the room going to the toilet but remembered for making films that deserve a quick flush. In the late 1960s, Robert Forster’s roles opposite Marlon Brando (Reflections in a Golden Eye) and Gregory Peck (The Stalking Moon) led to top billing as an emotionally detached TV cameraman covering the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots in Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool. Then he began losing preferred jobs, making little-seen films, and delivering watchable performances in several unwatchable movies.

Maybe you remember Forster from 1978’s Avalanche, which gave disaster movies a bad name, 1979’s The Black Hole, which gave space movies a bad name or 1989’s Counterforce, which gave elite special-mission force movies a bad name. Maybe not. But video-store-geek-turned-filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is familiar with Forster’s checkered career. He cast him as bail bondsman Max Cherry in Jackie Brown, a role that Forster parlayed into an Oscar nomination.

In Diamond Men, a comic drama cum hooker fantasy with a rubbery robbery subplot, Forster hunts gem sales rather than bail jumpers with the same blemished dignity, subtle grimaces, internalized loneliness, world-weary eye wrinkles and veteran hound-dog determination that made Jackie Brown such an intoxicating, compelling experience. He is immersed in quiet romance and glamourless crime here again as writer-director and third-generation diamond salesman Daniel Cohen weaves a tale about male bonding, reciprocal mentoring, generation gaps, sex versus affection, and the strange effect of a huge eye tattooed on a hooker’s chest.

The story begins as Eddie (Forster) has a heart attack. It then leaps ahead three months. Eddie has sold diamonds to small-town Pennsylvania jewelry storeowners for over 30 years. He usually carries $1 million in samples and is now not readily insurable. He wants his route and loyal customers back but his company wants to replace him with younger, less-experienced, lower-paid help. Eddie is strapped to a mortgage and has no social life so he cuts a deal with his boss. He’ll train the newcomer for several weeks if the company will reconsider his mandatory retirement.

The trainee is Bobby Walker (New Kids on the Block’s Donnie Wahlberg, the older brother of The Underwear Model Formerly Known as Marky Mark). Walker is a brash hustler of women who previously sold vending machine pretzels and drives a fast orange car (“I can’t sit in that car,” says Eddie, who prefers a more sedately gray Lincoln Town Car. “My prostate would be up in my throat.”). The interesting rub is that Bobby may have a genuine heart under all his swagger, latest European cologne and leopard-skin undershorts, so Eddie gives him a crash course in sensitivity training and salesmanship. In return, Bobby embraces a mission to get Eddie laid.

Diamond Men combines the authentic in-the-trench details of Barry Levinson’s Tin Men, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman with a hookers-with-a-heart-of-gold (Jasmine Guy and Bess Armstrong) relief valve.

The film is filled with tips (“When a customer says no, he’s asking for a reason to say yes.”), advice (“Rule No. 1: Never leave Chinese food in a closed vehicle.”) and wisecracks (“How do I know he’s not gong to work out?” says Eddie of Bobby. “How do you know shit when you step in it.”) and the lead actors are excellent. It’s a film in which gems have different personalities, hookers are not used to talking to the cops with their clothes on and an elderly jeweler is rejuvenated by an affair with a younger woman.

His doctor says he is having too much sex. “What do you call that?” he asks his poker buddies. “Science fiction,” one replies.

“What you have to realize is that we are dealing with something that’s not quite real,” says Eddie. “It’s a piece of coal.” What Diamond Men delivers is not quite real at times either. But it’s certainly a gem.