Life is on a downturn for reformed gangster, Jimmy The Saint (ANDY GARCIA), and it's about to get worse. The former gangster's legit business, a farewell message filming service for the terminally ill, is running aground. So when his paraplegic former boss, The Man With The Plan (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN - at his "most relishably venomous" according to Empire) offers him $50,000 to put the frighteners on the young buck who's stolen his dimwitted son's girlfriend, Jimmy jumps.
He rounds up his old crew one last time. There's Critical Bill (CHRISTOPHER LLOYD), a leprous porno projectionist; biking trailer trash, Franchise (WILLIAM FORSYTHE); cockroach exterminator, Easy Wind (BILL NUNN); and Critical Bill Dooley (TREAT WILLIAMS, appearing after a six-year screen absence). Critical Bill's a blast - a hair-triggered, punch-drunk, psycho undertaker with a neat line in bovver-boy talk (''I'm Godzilla and you're Japan'') who uses morgue cadavers for punch-bags.
Not surprisingly, the job goes horribly wrong. When both the young lovers are killed in a fit of critical pique, The Man hires legendary assassin Mr Shhh (STEVE BUSCEMI) to wipe out the entire gang apart from Jimmy, who's given 48 hours to flee Denver. But saintly Jimmy's not budging. He may be facing certain death, but he's got things to do. He's promised broody crack-whore Lucinda (FAIRUZA BALK) a child, and won't shift until she's impregnated. He's got to try and save his old criminal buddies from their slow and painful deaths at the hands of sadistic Mr Shhh. Most pressingly, he's fallen for angelic ski instructor, Dagney (GABRIELLE ANWAR), and can't bear to leave without telling her so. The question is, will Jimmy be prepared for the end when it comes?
With Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino opened the gates to a slew of copycat gangster flicks. Things To Do... is one of the best of the bunch, thanks largely to first-timers Scott Rosenberg (writer) and Gary Felder (director) imposing their own inventiveness and elegiac romanticism on the hip, brutal, jive-talkin' formula that's been so unimaginatively adhered to in many lesser efforts.
As Ryan Gilbey of The Independent put it, "Rosenberg and Fleder have married two disparate genres and created something that's funny when you expect it to be cruel, romantic instead of nihilistic and philosophical rather than visceral." Philip French of The Observer wrote in a similar vein: "The film's extreme violence is tempered by a biting wit and a warm, affectionate (yet never sentimental) treatment of friendship and its obligations."
This emotional depth, mixed with engaging characterisation, great acting from a talented ensemble effectively cast against type, a taut, twisting plot and Felder's slick direction, elevates the film into what The Independent On Sunday described as, "a dazzling calling-card for its writer and director," and Sight & Sound called, "a rare American film, both humorous and serious about death."