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Cultural Contamination

If Tell No One does not give us what we expect and want from a French thriller, part of the reason must lie in its source, an American mystery novel by Harlan Coben. I read a Harlan Coben mystery once, Just One Look. I can’t remember anymore if I vowed never to read another, but the fact remains that I have never read another. This adaptation by director and co-writer (and supporting actor) Guillaume Canet reminds me why. Convoluted and contorted beyond resemblance to organic life on Earth, concocted and cockamamie beyond the realm of all probability, it boasts the sort of plotting where an unassuming Parisian pediatrician, hounded by a remorseless hit squad, can call in a favor (i.e., troop support) from a grateful hoodlum with a hemophiliac infant. Or where a handy heroin addict will turn up dead at just the moment when you need a body in order to stage a faux murder, and you can count on no one noticing the discrepancies between the autopsy cadaver and the supposed victim. All along the way the storytelling employs withholding and delaying tactics whose effect is more annoyance than suspense; and at the finish it features a long-winded verbal summation that, besides its bookishness, compresses the absurdities into an intolerably small space. In the middle, the overheated action, in the man-on-the-run vein, stretches out far past the stamina of the average pediatrician; and the loose, lurching camerawork strives here and there to create an illusion of action even when there’s none.

All that aside, the film is perforce populated with Frenchmen (and bilingual Canadian and British women), who, true to form, work hard and selflessly to engage our interest: François Cluzet, the Gallic Dustin Hoffman, in looks at least, if not also in rodenty intensity, as the doctor who believes he has lost his wife to a serial killer, and comes to find out, on the eighth anniversary of the event, that he may not have lost her for good; Marie-Josée Croze (the Canadian) as the absent wife; Kristin Scott-Thomas (the Brit) and Marina Hands (last year’s Lady Chatterley) as a pair of uptown lesbians; the formidable Nathalie Baye as a high-priced and all-business attorney; François Berléand as the dogged, obsessive-compulsive cop on the case (exasperated, for example, at his underling’s carelessness in differentiating between the trash bin and the recycling bin); a tall, sinewy, hatchet-faced woman whose name I didn’t get as an impassive assassin and torturer; and the venerable veterans Jean Rochefort and André Dussollier as separately grieving fathers. The latter, thanks in no small measure to his membership in the Alain Resnais repertory troupe, has evolved into one of the world’s great actors, always a pleasure and a privilege to watch. With supreme poise and not a hint of a knee-buckle, he shoulders the brunt of the absurdity.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army, although it might receive a free pass from fans of Pan’s Labyrinth, amounts to a black mark on the record of director Guillermo del Toro, whose record, which started out so clean with Cronos in his native Mexico and Mimic in the Hollywood system, has begun to look a bit ink-stained: Blade II, the first Hellboy, now the second, and nothing else that comes close to those first two. If the panegyrized Pan’s Labyrinth was itself overly clogged in its visuals, his new production has a lot more money, more graphic design, more CGI, more costumes, more makeup, etc., with which to be clogged. To try, amid the congestion, to pick out evidence of his personal obsessions with subterranean realms and creepy-crawly life forms has become a joyless, though not a fruitless, exercise. The pivotal scene in the movie, irksomely jokey already, is without doubt the drunken duet between the titular sunburned hero and his aquamarine sidekick, Abe, a lachrymose sing-along to Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile without You.” (The red man is having troubles with his combustible new bride — “I would give my life for her, but she also wants me to do the dishes” — and the blue man has a crush on a flaxen-haired, powder-faced fairy princess, the sister of a netherworld insurrectionist scheming to overthrow humanity.) Some sorts of viewers — the immature, the tasteless, the silly — will possibly see this scene as the highlight, but the more seasoned are sure to feel it disqualifies the movie from its subsequent ponderings of the destruction of mankind, the eternal tug of war between self-interest and the commonweal, and the would-be wrenching death scene at the climax. They are likely to feel further that it disqualifies the movie from subsequent sequels.

Meet Dave, directed by Brian (Norbit) Robbins, is an Eddie Murphy vehicle that casts him in only two roles instead of his customary multiple, that of an anthropomorphic alien spaceship designed in the image of its captain, and that of the Lilliputian captain himself, sent to Earth from the dying planet Nil to retrieve a lime-sized orb that can drain the oceans for their needed salt, thereby saving Nil and dooming Earth. The ship’s crew, meanwhile, come to be affected by Earth’s atmosphere (the latent homosexual discovering Broadway show tunes, the latent romantic discovering décolletage), and come to understand that Earth is worth saving too. This strikes me as a science-fiction idea no less legitimate than that of WALL-E, and, in his guise as the spaceship-cum-robot, Murphy executes some amusing comedy of mockery in attempting to fit in with human society, grotesquely imitating the human smile, the human laugh, human small talk. But the manufacture of gags is plagued by inconsistency (why is the tiny captain so articulate while his man-sized simulacrum is so tongue-tied?) as well as by excessive demands and low standards.

Finding Amanda is a small comedy of larger-than-average ambition, sharp in flavor and in perception, centered around a middle-aged racetrack junkie and hack sitcom writer. Peter Tolan, the screenwriter and first-time director, has his own sitcom résumé, Murphy Brown, Home Improvement, The Larry Sanders Show, far from the pits, though his work here is not without traces of hackery mixed in with the honest effort. The protagonist, in his wife’s doghouse for his gambling, seeks to redeem himself by taking on a mission of mercy to Vegas, ostensibly hoping to persuade his hooker niece to enter rehab, but more urgently hoping to play the ponies in peace, backsliding on his drug and alcohol recoveries to boot. Matthew Broderick occupies the moral low ground with his perennial innocence intact, preventing the movie from sliding into the chasm of Leaving Las Vegas. Brittany Snow, less than half his age and perhaps less than half his innocence as well, does fine with the perky denial, but the cracks in the façade look like mere histrionics. This is one of those exclusives at the Gaslamp theater for which I’ve advised you to keep an eye out. Blink and it could be gone.

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If Tell No One does not give us what we expect and want from a French thriller, part of the reason must lie in its source, an American mystery novel by Harlan Coben. I read a Harlan Coben mystery once, Just One Look. I can’t remember anymore if I vowed never to read another, but the fact remains that I have never read another. This adaptation by director and co-writer (and supporting actor) Guillaume Canet reminds me why. Convoluted and contorted beyond resemblance to organic life on Earth, concocted and cockamamie beyond the realm of all probability, it boasts the sort of plotting where an unassuming Parisian pediatrician, hounded by a remorseless hit squad, can call in a favor (i.e., troop support) from a grateful hoodlum with a hemophiliac infant. Or where a handy heroin addict will turn up dead at just the moment when you need a body in order to stage a faux murder, and you can count on no one noticing the discrepancies between the autopsy cadaver and the supposed victim. All along the way the storytelling employs withholding and delaying tactics whose effect is more annoyance than suspense; and at the finish it features a long-winded verbal summation that, besides its bookishness, compresses the absurdities into an intolerably small space. In the middle, the overheated action, in the man-on-the-run vein, stretches out far past the stamina of the average pediatrician; and the loose, lurching camerawork strives here and there to create an illusion of action even when there’s none.

All that aside, the film is perforce populated with Frenchmen (and bilingual Canadian and British women), who, true to form, work hard and selflessly to engage our interest: François Cluzet, the Gallic Dustin Hoffman, in looks at least, if not also in rodenty intensity, as the doctor who believes he has lost his wife to a serial killer, and comes to find out, on the eighth anniversary of the event, that he may not have lost her for good; Marie-Josée Croze (the Canadian) as the absent wife; Kristin Scott-Thomas (the Brit) and Marina Hands (last year’s Lady Chatterley) as a pair of uptown lesbians; the formidable Nathalie Baye as a high-priced and all-business attorney; François Berléand as the dogged, obsessive-compulsive cop on the case (exasperated, for example, at his underling’s carelessness in differentiating between the trash bin and the recycling bin); a tall, sinewy, hatchet-faced woman whose name I didn’t get as an impassive assassin and torturer; and the venerable veterans Jean Rochefort and André Dussollier as separately grieving fathers. The latter, thanks in no small measure to his membership in the Alain Resnais repertory troupe, has evolved into one of the world’s great actors, always a pleasure and a privilege to watch. With supreme poise and not a hint of a knee-buckle, he shoulders the brunt of the absurdity.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army, although it might receive a free pass from fans of Pan’s Labyrinth, amounts to a black mark on the record of director Guillermo del Toro, whose record, which started out so clean with Cronos in his native Mexico and Mimic in the Hollywood system, has begun to look a bit ink-stained: Blade II, the first Hellboy, now the second, and nothing else that comes close to those first two. If the panegyrized Pan’s Labyrinth was itself overly clogged in its visuals, his new production has a lot more money, more graphic design, more CGI, more costumes, more makeup, etc., with which to be clogged. To try, amid the congestion, to pick out evidence of his personal obsessions with subterranean realms and creepy-crawly life forms has become a joyless, though not a fruitless, exercise. The pivotal scene in the movie, irksomely jokey already, is without doubt the drunken duet between the titular sunburned hero and his aquamarine sidekick, Abe, a lachrymose sing-along to Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile without You.” (The red man is having troubles with his combustible new bride — “I would give my life for her, but she also wants me to do the dishes” — and the blue man has a crush on a flaxen-haired, powder-faced fairy princess, the sister of a netherworld insurrectionist scheming to overthrow humanity.) Some sorts of viewers — the immature, the tasteless, the silly — will possibly see this scene as the highlight, but the more seasoned are sure to feel it disqualifies the movie from its subsequent ponderings of the destruction of mankind, the eternal tug of war between self-interest and the commonweal, and the would-be wrenching death scene at the climax. They are likely to feel further that it disqualifies the movie from subsequent sequels.

Meet Dave, directed by Brian (Norbit) Robbins, is an Eddie Murphy vehicle that casts him in only two roles instead of his customary multiple, that of an anthropomorphic alien spaceship designed in the image of its captain, and that of the Lilliputian captain himself, sent to Earth from the dying planet Nil to retrieve a lime-sized orb that can drain the oceans for their needed salt, thereby saving Nil and dooming Earth. The ship’s crew, meanwhile, come to be affected by Earth’s atmosphere (the latent homosexual discovering Broadway show tunes, the latent romantic discovering décolletage), and come to understand that Earth is worth saving too. This strikes me as a science-fiction idea no less legitimate than that of WALL-E, and, in his guise as the spaceship-cum-robot, Murphy executes some amusing comedy of mockery in attempting to fit in with human society, grotesquely imitating the human smile, the human laugh, human small talk. But the manufacture of gags is plagued by inconsistency (why is the tiny captain so articulate while his man-sized simulacrum is so tongue-tied?) as well as by excessive demands and low standards.

Finding Amanda is a small comedy of larger-than-average ambition, sharp in flavor and in perception, centered around a middle-aged racetrack junkie and hack sitcom writer. Peter Tolan, the screenwriter and first-time director, has his own sitcom résumé, Murphy Brown, Home Improvement, The Larry Sanders Show, far from the pits, though his work here is not without traces of hackery mixed in with the honest effort. The protagonist, in his wife’s doghouse for his gambling, seeks to redeem himself by taking on a mission of mercy to Vegas, ostensibly hoping to persuade his hooker niece to enter rehab, but more urgently hoping to play the ponies in peace, backsliding on his drug and alcohol recoveries to boot. Matthew Broderick occupies the moral low ground with his perennial innocence intact, preventing the movie from sliding into the chasm of Leaving Las Vegas. Brittany Snow, less than half his age and perhaps less than half his innocence as well, does fine with the perky denial, but the cracks in the façade look like mere histrionics. This is one of those exclusives at the Gaslamp theater for which I’ve advised you to keep an eye out. Blink and it could be gone.

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Comments
1

Why haven't any reviews compared Finding Amanda to the Dreyfuss film LET IT RIDE, in which he is a cab driver that has a gambling problem, but goes to the track and keeps winning and keeps betting.

And, why do studios continue to pay Eddie Murphy to make films? Pluto Nash flopped. All his movies where he plays fat women, have flopped. This movie made 4 million opening weekend, and will be gone soon. Insane.

July 17, 2008

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