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Small-scale 'Smiling Fish' is worth reeling in

From its title, you'd think "Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire" is a fairy tale, or maybe a native-American legend. In fact, it's a contemporary story about two ordinary men coping with everyday situations. It's not particularly memorable, but it provides fresh evidence that independent filmmaking remains alive and well.

The main characters are Chris and Tony, brothers who share a Los Angeles house. They get along, but there's an undercurrent of mild tension arising from deep-down differences in their personalities. This is reflected in the movie's title, taken from nicknames their grandmother gave them as children. Chris does well at work (he's an accountant), but has a rocky relationship with his girlfriend. Tony likes his girlfriend, but hasn't yet turned his career (he's an actor) into something to boast about.

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The plot thickens when each brother falls for a new woman, and it thickens more when Chris strikes up a friendship with an elderly African-American man whose soulful ideas and colorful memories give Chris a new perspective on life.

The film derives its energy from the day-to-day interactions of these crisply etched characters. It also benefits from the liveliness of its screenplay, written by director Kevin Jordan with the real-life brothers Derick and Steven Martini, who play the title roles.

It's a small, unassuming movie. And that's the best thing about it.

*Rated R; contains vulgarity and sexual material.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society