Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:54 pm 
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Not-bad noir entertains on its way downhill

The Swedish director working in English for the first time has been torn to shreds by all the critics for this effort at old-fashioned thriller noir with a touch of modernity -- too many twists to the plot, rappers as actors to add the flavor of the 'hood to a tale about suburbanites who take a walk on the wild side. Adultery gets quickly punished when pub-crawling Chicago adman Clive Owen meets Jennifer Aniston on a commuter train and after a few favors exchanged and secret dates they go off to a sleazy hotel to confirm their lust and banish their boredom. Bof! Boum! In pops Vincent Cassel, bulked up in a big jacket to make him look capable of what he next does: knocks down Clive and knocks up Jennifer. They're both married so when Jennifer insists the cops not be alerted, Clive agrees.

After that, Clive becomes a desperate loser as Vincent precedes to bleed him with follow-up calls that aren't just to see if his smashed nose is healing nicely. To pay off Vincent's extortion, Clive digs more and more into the dough he's set aside for years for the meds his Type 1 diabetic daughter needs. He gets in deeper and deeper but never ceases to be the fall guy.

Through all this, Clive Owen somehow holds onto his sexiness and charm. As for Jennifer Aniston, she's quite attractive when she's spruced up to look like a bank excec, but when she gets bedraggled, Clive's wife Melissa George outshines her and she just starts to look uptight. It's useless to root for Owen's character till he turns Superman toward the end. The rage has to build but the wait may seem a bit long. Luckily Clive acquires some rubbed-off charisma by palling up with an office drone with a prison record and the aforementioned ghetto smarts played by rapper RZA. As the chief villain of the piece, Cassel is certainly slimy and it's interesting, if off-program for the genre, the way his character slides from sadistic thug to smooth con man in a single scene. The funny thing is his English is so good some viewers think his gallic patina fake, which spoils his character's back-story, since he's supposed to be actually French (which of course in real life he is). His sidekick is another rapper dude, a fella with the moniker of Xzibit. But when you have to rely on Ebonic spellings to liven up a cast, you're sliding towards desperation. This is where the movie goes in its last half hour, when ending piles on top of ending and we reach new peaks (or is it depths?) of implausibility.

Still, there is something truly primal about a respectable couple in a down-market hotel room about to commit adultery getting violently broken in upon by a pistol-wielding thug who takes their credit cards and cash and humiliates them. Is this a Bush-era twist? Anyway, it packs a wallop that carries you along for a while. There's something definitely Bush-era about the way a story about a con game tries to con the audience, but doesn't quite succeed. Still and all, there's some decent acting here, and the director doesn't get in the way of the action. This movie isn't bad; it's entertaining. But it isn't great, and its screenplay is hokey in the way I guess the Weinstein Company likes: this is the first production to which they've attached their august new name.

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