Adventurous thieves steal the show in ‘Broadway’

"Broadway" opens on April 28 at the Village East.
“Broadway” opens on April 28 at the Village East.
Dark Star Pictures

The Greek film “Broadway” — named for the abandoned theater its characters hole up in — opens with Markos (Stathis Apostolou) having phone sex with Nelly (Elsa Lekakou) only to reveal their call takes place as she is visiting him in prison. (The guards put a stop to it.)

In his feature debut, writer/director Christos Massalas includes a few more charades. Nelly narrates a story about her mother, a ballerina, only to show Nelly dancing on a stripper pole. Meanwhile, Markos claims he lost one of his fingers as a youth because he had a mountain lion as a pet. (Nelly doesn’t believe this story, but it is a good one.) “Broadway” is entertaining when Massalas keeps the characters and the viewers guessing, but things get predictable once the story begins in earnest.

At the strip club, Markos rescues Nelly from a sticky situation and takes her to Broadway, where she becomes a part of his chosen family. The other members, all seeking refuge from some kind of trouble, include Jonas (Foivos Papadopoulos), who is injured and in hiding, as well as Rudolph (Rafael Papad) and his boyfriend Mohammad (Salim Tabi). The gay couple’s backstories are undisclosed, which is frustrating.

The crew work as thieves. Nelly, using costumes from the theater, performs a dance routine in the streets while Markos picks the pockets of the audience. Mohammad collects the wallets in a shopping bag.

The crew has some initial success, and when Jonas needs to hide in plain sight, Nelly dresses him up as a woman — Jonas chooses the name Barbara — and they become a dual act. The ruse is useful as a trio of trans characters, acknowledging Barbara as one of them, help Nelly escape another sticky situation when she is apprehended. However, Markos is not so lucky, and is jailed for 11 months for his criminal activity.

While Markos is behind bars, Nelly gets intimate with Jonas/Barbara and they fall in love. Their romance is sweet, but it hits a snag when Markos gets out of jail early and catches them coupling up. They plan to kill him with some poison. Alas, the murder plot does not hold much tension, especially when Massalas reveals what is actually in a glass of milk being prepared for Markos to end his life.

Herein lies the problem with “Broadway.” The film introduces a handful of interesting characters but gives them very little to do. Rudolph and Mohammad are likable, but in addition to being thinly drawn, they serve very little purpose in the story. Rudolph does get a cute moment being pushed around in a supermarket shopping cart. Lola, a rabid monkey that is locked up in a cage and occasionally comes out to “play” with the various characters, has more development than either gay man.

Likewise, the backstory about Jonas and why he is in hiding comes too late into the story for it to generate any real suspense. Markos explains Jonas’ situation, which justifies why he wants to escape with Nelly, who must choose which man she loves more, or, rather, which man she will betray. But even if “Broadway” seems to be creating its drama out of the idea that there will be honor among thieves, Nelly’s decision does not come as a surprise. Massalas should have included more ambiguity in his film to make it kickier.

While the plotting is disappointing, the film looks great. The shots are often gorgeous, as when the characters are on the building’s rooftop cinema, or when they are framed by windows or doorways. The color red is prominent in various scenes, and the film’s cinematography by Konstantinos Koukoulios, editing by Yorgos Lamprinos, and score by Gabriel Yared, are all top notch.

The performances by Elsa Lekakou and Foivos Papadopoulos are appealing because they are given characters who get to reinvent themselves. Lekakou conveys a nice sense of Alice in Wonderland as she acclimates to her new life in Broadway, and she leans into it, helping Jonas reimagine his life as Barbara. And Papadopoulos does register some charm playing a man who dresses as a woman but falls for a woman he can be a man with. Their scenes together, such as one on the Broadway rooftop, are endearing, and their dance routines are fun and amusing. In support, Stathis Apostolou is best when he provides a sense of uncertainty. His performance is spiky, especially when he wonders if Nelly has a cold — while he is performing oral sex on her.

Massalas ends “Broadway” with a satisfying reveal in the final moments that will charm viewers and perhaps prompt them to overlook the film’s considerable flaws.

“Broadway” | Directed by Christos Massalas | Opening April 28 at the Village East | Distributed by Dark Star Pictures