Talking Movies

December 15, 2019

From the Archives: Code Name: The Cleaner

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

A strong contender for turkey of the year, this 82 minute long ‘comedy’ manages the staggering feat of raising no laughs, not even a giggle or a titter during its entire (and mercifully brief) running time. The one joke about Lionel Richie that seemed mildly amusing in the trailer becomes totally flat when delivered in context by our amnesiac hero Jake, played by the extremely dubiously monikered Cedric the Entertainer. This is an incredibly joyless exercise which the mind struggles to explain except as a victim of the writer’s strike which prevented some comedy writers from adding the gags to a rejected thriller script before filming began, except that would make sense for a film released this time next year but not for one released now. This film is so predictably structured it could be taught as a model of uninvolved storytelling, the secret motive is revealed here, a character betrays another here…. You will become so bored that you begin to wonder what an ambitious writer could have done with such a set-up if they’d chosen to go for a full on paranoid thriller. But I digress, we must deal with what we have before us, not the lost opportunities.

What we have is not pretty. Cedric the Entertainer stole 2003’s Intolerable Cruelty from George Clooney. It is thus baffling just why he would appear in a picture that reduces black culture to the mix of casual misogyny, objectification of women and farcical macho posturing of ‘ghetto’ rappers that drives Bill Cosby among others so wild. Desperate Housewives star Nicolette Sheridan gets precious little screen time as she is there only to do a ‘sexy’ dance in lingerie to get information from her ‘husband’ Jake. How does it compare to the similar scene between Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnie in True Lies? Not even close. Lucy Liu similarly is introduced in sexy slow motion to allow Jake to drool over her ‘fine ass’. All this is quite startling for supposedly egalitarian 2007 and is only partly redeemed by Liu’s belated transformation into an ass-kicking FBI agent which allows for an absurd finale in which everyone, apart from mere janitor Jake, develops Charlie Angel’s style martial arts skills.

Boredom can be somewhat staved off by playing spot the obscure TV actors. But that’s really only a game suitable for walking IMDbs such as this reviewer who noticed that Nicolette Sheridan’s receptionist is the receptionist from Canadian vampire show Blood Ties. Canadian character actor Callum Keith Rennie features prominently as a bent FBI agent and comes out with some dignity intact. Not much mind, but a lot more than his one-time Due South co-star Beau Starr as one of Jake’s fellow janitors. Brett Ratner, the auteur behind the Rush Hour trilogy, produced this dreck. Brett, just…stop. Okay? Please??

0/5

January 23, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coens return with their worst film since their mainstream disasters Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, and this time round they can’t say their vision was distorted by mainstream pressures.

Picture 4.png

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) performs a folksong at the Gaslight Cafe in 1961. Walking backstage he’s punched in the face, an unwelcome reminder of the Coens’ Gambit script. The effectively homeless Llewyn wakes up on the Gorfeins’ couch and leaves their flat in accidental possession of their cat. His next planned couch, that of occasional lover Jean (Carey Mulligan), has been promised to earnest GI singer Troy (Stark Sands). Worse still Jean is pregnant and, unsure of the paternity, wants to abort the baby. The needful money comes from Jean’s boyfriend Jim (Justin Timberlake) inviting Llewyn to join Al Cody (Adam Driver) as a session player on Jim’s novelty song ‘Please Mr Kennedy’. After Llewyn alienates everybody he knows he is reduced to sharing a car to Chicago with rude jazzman Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his valet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund), in a quest to impress Chicagoan music impresario (F Murray Abraham). Can Llewyn finally get his voice heard?

You won’t care… Even if you’re still conscious after the tedium of the tedious road-trip, you won’t care because Llewyn is comprehensively as obnoxious a protagonist as you have ever seen. He’s an abrasive, unreasonable, uncaring, and only slightly talented egomaniacal dick. But he’s not compelling as a character, and he’s not even consistent. In a horrific scene he curses the inexplicably hospitable Gorfeins for wanting him to perform after dinner when he’s ‘a professional musician’. A few scenes later he performs to entertain the driving Johnny, even though he’s still ‘a professional musician’. A character this toxic infects everything… The crudity of dialogue is astonishing, and having Llewyn upbraided for his foul mouth doesn’t overcome it. The acting also decays: Mulligan shouts or snaps nearly all of her lines, snapping being one gradation below shouting with her, On the Road’s Hedlund’s appearance seems an unfunny in-joke, because he’s playing a meaner Dean Moriarty, and Goodman is on uncommitted auto-pilot.

I only love two Coen films, the most absurd ones: Raising ArizonaO Brother. I’ve long felt they were over-rated given their taste for crunching violence, blank characters, and a curious air of superiority, but this is a startling nadir. I can’t give you any reason to see Inside Llewyn Davis. Its full performances of minor folksongs can be bettered by throwing on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, a truer sense of that scene can be acquired by reading Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, a more insightful study of a failing artist featuring Adam Driver is Frances Ha, and a more compelling abrasive guy getting into shouting matches stars in Curb Your Enthusiasm. But I also can’t explain Inside Llewyn Davis’ existence. Singers need to perform to an audience, and Llewyn can’t properly connect with audiences, so his unrelenting monstrousness isn’t redeemed personally or artistically. If that’s the point, then… we all encounter enough jerks in life without needing films about them…

The Coen Brothers often give the impression they have a smirking contempt for their cipher characters, but this film shades over into contempt for their adoring audience in addition.

0/5

Blog at WordPress.com.