Went to Coney Island on a Mission From God...Be Back By Five

on August 25, 2000 by Francesca Dinglasan
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   Partly based on pic star and co-scribe Jon Cryer's real-life experiences, "Went to Coney Island on a Mission From God...Be Back by Five" follows a couple of New Yorkers on their one-day outing to the city's Coney Island amusement park, where they search for a long-lost third buddy rumored to have become homeless. Whenever Daniel (Cryer), a responsible yet slightly neurotic nerd, and Stan (Rick Stear), his comely but alcoholic best friend, tell each other that they need to go on "a mission from God," they're communicating in code that there is some matter so pressing that it warrants dropping everything else to attend to it. In this case, it's Stan's discovery that someone believed to be a grade school chum, Richie (Rafael Baez), was spotted among the countless vagrants living under Coney Island's famed Boardwalk. So out duty and curiosity, the two set off on a wild goose chase in the hopes of tracking down their former friend.

   With the once-famous, now decrepit Coney Island doubling as both the film's backdrop as well as an encompassing metaphor for loneliness and abandonment (due to the park's emptiness during the setting of the winter off-season), "Went To Coney Island" is an engaging, somber story that conveys heavy nostalgia for a more innocent past as well as the need to face the disappointments of the present. The film is interlaced with childhood and high school flashbacks, which deliberately and judiciously reveal the moments that led up to Daniel and Stan's adult failings and, even more poignantly, the unraveling of their close bond with a very troubled Richie.

   A bit more problematic, however, are the present-day sequences on the Boardwalk, which tend to last a tad too long and stray too far away from the central plot. Stan and Daniel encounter a parade of eccentric characters, meant as additional examples of human desolation, whose superfluous tales work as unfortunate distractions from the much more interesting search for the missing Richie. Luckily, the intelligent dialogue between the best friends, especially in their examination of what minute factors led to the difference between their fates and their less fortunate schoolmate, goes a long way toward redeeming a plot that sometimes wanders as much as its two leads. Starring Jon Cryer, Rick Stear, Rafael Baez and Ione Skye. Directed by Richard Schenkman. Written and produced by Jon Cryer and Richard Schenkman. A Phaedra release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 94 min

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