By Stephanie Zacharek
By Simon Abrams
By Michelle Orange
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Nick Schager
By Amy Nicholson
By The Invisible Woman
By I Used to Be Darker
Oh, dear. Angelina Jolie's made another bad film. Is it too soon to give up on her?
There's no denying that Angelina's sexy as hell. The tattoos, the knife collection, the exhibitionist streak, the bisexual vibe she gives off...totally hot, no question. Given her work with the U.N. and wild-animal preserves, it also seems likely that she's a good person. Plus she has that Oscar, you know, the gold statue that occasionally correlates to genuine acting talent.
But sadly, there's also Life or Something Like It. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Beyond Borders. Gone in Sixty Seconds. It's beginning to seem as though large breasts and a willingness to flaunt them are the only attributes that separate Ms. Jolie from, say, Cuba Gooding Jr., who -- lest we forget based upon recent oeuvre -- also has one of those gold statues, and little to show for it since. The aforementioned hooters are briefly on display in the actress's newest piece of work, Taking Lives, but if that's the allure, better off buying a used copy of Gia or Original Sin than sitting through this latest disappointment.
To make this film a double let-down, the director is D.J. Caruso, whose feature debut, The Salton Sea, was a wild and crazy contemporary noir on speed that channeled both Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino (not always successfully, but close enough). Here Caruso is trying to clone Seven, from the derivative opening credits (note that Philip Glass is no substitute for Trent Reznor when it comes to underscoring said titles) to the decaying interiors lit solely by the flashlights of investigating officers. There are exactly two sudden shocks that work very well, but beyond those, this is no David Fincher flick. Fans of Fincher will yawn, and chances are, those who hate the guy won't be won over by Caruso's fetishistic love of severed body parts.
Things start off promisingly enough, with U2's "Bad" cuing us that it's 1983 as a sensitive-looking youngster (Paul Dano, soon to be seen to better effect in The Girl Next Door) runs away from home and hooks up with a military-school escapee (Justin Chatwin, from the recent U.S. TV version of Traffic) who apparently plans to get a jump on the '90s by fleeing to Seattle to play guitar. The scenes between the two boys play like an indie film, with shades of Dano's own L.I.E.This, we ask ourselves, is a star-driven Hollywood thriller? Then there's a sudden dramatic turn of events, and the Seven credits are rolling. Damn.
For the rest of the movie, the big mystery, in a nutshell, is this: Which above-the-title movie star has Dano's character grown up to become? Whiny art dealer Ethan Hawke? Brooding Frenchman Olivier Martinez? Or sinister Kiefer Sutherland, whose on-screen time is so brief he could have shot it on his lunch break from 24? See, whoever it is would apparently be the first serial killer Montreal has ever seen, a situation that puzzles all those French-Canadians so much that they require the services of a busty American FBI lass who likes to lie around in open graves (Jolie, naturally). As a matter of fact, she seems to enjoy lying flat on her back so much that...well, y'know, one is tempted to make some sort of off-color joke about it.
The killer likes to take lives in more ways than one: After he has bashed a victim's face in with a large rock, he assumes the person's identity for a time. His motivation for such has to do with some nonsense about him being an evil twin -- yes, really. Hawke is the key witness to the killer's most recent act of violence -- unless, of course, he's lying and is actually the killer. Martinez is a male-chauvinist cop named Paquette (pronounced "baguette" by his French-accented co-stars with no apparent irony) who'd like to work on the case without interference from Morticia Adams, er, Illeana Scott, or whatever the heck the character of "Angelina Jolie" is being called this time around. Of course, he may just want to get rid of her because he's lying and could really be the killer. Honestly, this stuff makes you long for the heyday of Joe Eszterhas.
In the meantime, Tcheky Karyo (as the chief of police) and Gena Rowlands (as the killer's mom) wander around the periphery without much to do, stranded by the sad-sack screenplay penned by Jon Bokenkamp (Bad Seed) and based on a novel by British historian Michael Pye (all apologies, readers, for not obtaining a timely copy, but granted the author's pedigree, one imagines it's better than the movie, especially since Bokenkamp also gets credit for the "screen story"). The film's finale is truly egregious, a laugh-out-loud combination of ludicrousness and sadism that someone, somewhere probably found scary, assuming they never saw a thriller before. Well, save perhaps Dial M for Murder, from which Caruso and Bokenkamp shamelessly try to borrow some business. Too bad their appropriating abilities aren't akin to their killer's -- though watching the film does occasionally feel like being struck in the head with a rock.
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