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Film review: Diggstown

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 19 1992 12:00 a.m. MDT

The film opens with James Woods as an incarcerated con artist about to be released but already at work on his next scam. The audience is kept in the dark about exactly what the scam is until Woods and friends begin setting it up.

Soon after his release, Woods heads for the film's title town, a small Southern burg run by corrupt businessman Bruce Dern, who has been buying up all the local property he can lay his hands on, by hook or crook.

Woods and cohort Oliver Platt ("Flatliners") start the machinery rolling and eventually make a bet with Dern that a 48-year-old boxer they know can lick any 10 Diggstown pugs in back-to-back matches.

Only after he sets it up, however, does Woods recruit his boxer, Louis Gossett Jr., a former con partner who has gone straight. Gossett is reluctant at first, but . . . as if you didn't know . . . eventually comes around and joins Woods and Platt in their scheme.

Gossett receives a real punishing in the ring when he starts taking on an array of amateur boxers one by one, which occupies the film's final third or so. This film spends a lot of time in the ring, but even if you aren't a boxing fan, each bout offers enough comic variety to keep you entertained.

There's more to it than this simple outline lets on, but to give away much more would dilute the simple pleasures of the script's many diversions. There are several enjoyable turns here but none more surprising than the climactic twist that is sure to have the audience hooting with approval.

Though "Diggstown" has enough drama to keep it from being strictly classified as a comedy, there are some pretty big laughs here, and veteran director Michael Ritchie ("Fletch," "The Candidate") and screenwriter Steven McKay ("Hard to Kill," the upcoming "Rambo IV") keep things moving at a steady clip. Ritchie is especially adept at allowing each boxing match to take on a specific life so that audience interest doesn't lag; no small task in itself.

Woods and Gossett work very well together, with Woods doing an energetic version of his oft-played sardonic hustler and Gossett perfect at reacting with slow burns and ironic one-liners. Gossett looks pretty good in the ring, as well.

Dern also plays a role with which he's not unfamiliar, the sleazy thug in a businessman's suit, and Oliver Platt and Heather Graham have some nice moments.

"Diggstown" is what the industry terms "an audience picture," and it should more than please any crowd it pulls into the theater.

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