Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire

Directed by Kevin Jordan
Starring: Derick Martini, Steven Martini, Christa Miller, Bill Henderson, Rosemarie Addeo, Amy Hathaway.
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual content and brief drug use.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
September 11, 2000

With so many unoriginal titles recently, especially those that are similar to others, it's nice to have a film come out with an entirely unique title. Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire might not leverage its title toward success, but it certainly has better chance because of it -- not to mention the fact that it's a pretty good film.

The title refers to the nicknames given to the principal characters by their Native-American/Italian grandmother. The older brother, Chris (Derick Martini), is "Goat on Fire": a morose accountant who can't even find happiness with his long-time girlfriend Alison (Amy Hathaway). The younger brother, Tony (Steven Martini), is "Smiling Fish": a jovial actor who has a (rightfully) jealous girlfriend, Nicole (Heather Jae Marie). Both brothers have a fallout with their girlfriends during the same morning, leaving them open to changing their lives.

For Chris, it begins with meeting Clive Winter (Bill Henderson), whom he drives to his office from the retirement home, at the request of co-worker Burt (Wesley Thompson), Clive's nephew. Clive tells Chris about his late wife, and acts as a romance catalyst between Chris and Anna (Rosemarie Addeo), an Italian animal wrangler that Chris met at a party. Tony meets their postwoman, Kathy (Christa Miller), whose daughter Natalie (Nicole Rae) is also an actor. When they coincidentally meet again at an audition, Natalie tries to bring them together.

Like The Tao of Steve, Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire (or Goat on Fire and Smiling Fish, as it was originally called) is a laid-back comedy from a pair of siblings making their debut. In this case, they are the Martini brothers, who wrote the screenplay with director Kevin Jordan. With $40,000, some old friends, and a few established actors like Henderson and Miller, they shot this film on 16mm stock. After positive responses in film festivals, and a little help from Martin Scorsese, they got distribution.

The result is pleasing and full of potential. The Martinis are naturals in front of the camera. Whether they are really playing themselves on camera is immaterial. They both have the charm, poise, and timing to make it in the film business. You could compare them to Luke and Owen Wilson (who had a similar break with Bottle Rocket), except the Martinis are far more likeable. Their screenplay is simple, funny, and has a nice feel-good quality at the end. While not as groundbreaking as The Blair Witch Project, this film continues to show that you can make quality films on the super-cheap.

Again, Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire will probably not go on to make $150 million. It is well suited to stay in the art houses and get its proper attention there. What I can't wait for is a double feature with Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Ah, I can see the marquee now...

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Goat on Fire and Smiling Fish (1999) -- original title

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Smiling Fish & Goat on Fire (1999) -- VHS
Smiling Fish & Goat on Fire (1999) -- DVD Home
Review Archive
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings

Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan