There’s a turn of phrase that I like to avoid in where a writer compares any eclectic crime film they can find to the work of Quentin Tarantino by labelling it a ‘Tarantino knockoff’, or any variation in vocabulary. I renounce this lazy, unimaginative jab as it’s based in the worst form of criticism, that of negative comparison and ignorance of a film’s original qualities. However, in the case of American Strays, even I have to concede that it’s a blatant, unapologetic ripoff of QT’s style that makes no efforts to mask the plagiarism or do it’s own thing. He should sue. Not to mention the fact that on it’s own terms it’s just a horrible, boring, awkward fuckin piece of shit movie. It’s set up in the same anthology sequence except none of them are even connected, let alone make sense. Two nimrod hit men (James Russo and Joe Viterelli) drive through the desert engaging in strained extended dialogue that’s neither funny nor stimulating. A psychotic vacuum salesman (the great John Savage) goes door to door harassing people until he meets his match in a femme fatale housewife (Jennifer Tilly). A stressed out family man (Eric Roberts, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else) drives his dysfunctional brood through the desert. Elsewhere, Luke Perry plays a depressed, suicidal weirdo who sits around in a shack with a guy he’s paid to literally beat the shit out of him. The worst is a cutesy pie, insufferable Bonnie and Clyde style couple that are so obviously emulating Clarence and Alabama from Tarantino’s True Romance that you begin to wonder if they gave up and just set the script on autopilot like one of those knowingly ridiculous knockoffs you see on Netflix that are simply there to decoy you out into clicking a title that looks *almost* like what you want to watch (TransMorphers, anyone?). None of these vignettes are remotely engaging, it’s like a parade of shitty, awkward, misguided SNL skits from a dimension where humour and wit don’t exist. Every actor just looks tired, every line lands with a hollow thud. Just. Don’t. Bother.
Do Not Disturb, a cheaply drawn Euro-trash oddity, ironically does exactly what it’s title forbids by indeed disturbing the audience with very questionable scenes that paint Amsterdam in a way that I’m sure would infuriate locals. Also called ‘Silent Witness’ on DVD, it’s a wonder why such a weird, awful script would attract high pedigree actors like William Hurt, Jennifer Tilly and Denis Leary. Hurt and Tilly play a wealthy American couple on a business trip to Amsterdam with their little daughter (Francesca Brown), who happens to be a mute, wearing a magic marker around her neck as sole means of communication. After getting separated from her parents at the hotel, she inadvertently witnesses a murder by two nasty hitmen (Corey Johnson and some other random) and flees off into the night pursued by them, and subjected to all kinds of whacked out freaks. Seriously, this poor girl in terms of both the character and the actress, is put through an unnecessary wringer of ultra violence and sleaze. There’s this thread of implied child abuse running through the narrative, as if such proclivities are inherent in Dutch people in that city, and it’s really troubling to see a girl her age have to be ogled by perverts at every turn, an ill advised and shameful addition from some no name scriptwriter who probably never worked again. Then there’s Denis Leary, who should have sued the marketing team for misrepresentation. On the US DVD cover, he leers off the poster with an evil gaze, holding a gun and giving every impression that he’s the film’s villain. In the actual film, he an innocuous American homeless man who helps the poor girl navigate the dangerous streets throughout, the only sane individual she meets, really. It’s an alright role for the guy, but that stupid box art really sells his presence askew. It’s just a bizarre, uneven disaster for the most part, and I still wonder to this day why any of these fine actors participated. William Hurt especially is such a choosy performer, usually handpicking excellent scripts and being careful with his career, but here he jumps right into the abysmal script with some pseudo Southern accent that is way, way beneath him. Should not be used as a tourism video for Amsterdam, but rather forgotten permanently from the DTV landscape.
Before the Wachowskis rocketed into the stratosphere of cinema with their big budget world building and brilliant, lofty ideas, they made Bound, a down n’ dirty, kinky little slice of mob pulp that’s as much fun as it is sexy, potent and dangerous. Gina Gershon plays Corky, a hard nosed opportunist with a keen eye for making money and a fondness for beautiful women. Jennifer Tilly is Violet, the bored wife of weaselly gangster Ceasar (a lively Joe Pantoliano), who has just come into a whole wacky of shady cash via his employer Mickey, played by one of the great character actors of his generation, John P. Ryan, who is sadly no longer with us. Ceasar has been given the money to launder, but Violet has other plans that involve double crossing him and making off with it. When she happens to wander into the gay bar that Corky frequents, sparks fly. And I really mean it, for soon enough the two are in bed together for one of the single most hot and heavy sex scenes you will ever see in a film. Seriously, you’ll want to open some windows for this baby. As soon as Corky gets wind of the money, the plot simmers as everyone makes a discreet mad dash for riches and no one is sure who is screwing over who. Gershon is tough, sexy as hell and leaves a faint trace of vulnerability in her excellent performance. Tilly is crafty and secretive, deliberately making people underestimate her until it’s too late. This was Ryan’s last film role, and he makes the most of it as a salty old thug with a dash of class, a touch of kindness and the unnerving tendancy to snap at the drop of a hat. Christopher Meloni is hilariously pathetic as his second in command who irritates everyone around him, especially Ceasar, who has a scary little temper of his own. One senses real danger for our two female leads, because despite the somewhat playful and often satirical tone towards tell gangsters, the Wachowskis have still fashioned them to be formidable and cruel, a wise tonal choice that grounds the viewer and distills geniune suspense. The characters are all brilliantly written and realized, so if you read this review thinking this was a trashy little lowbrow affair, it’s not. It’s It’s a real world tale that just so happens to take place in a lurid part of movie town, and contains one scorcher of a lesbian love affair that is as affecting in dialogue and body language as it is with sex. A special film, and not one to be missed.