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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Jean-Baptiste Andrea
scr Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Billy Asher
with David Schwimmer, Simon Pegg, Alice Eve, Natascha McElhone, Jon Polito, Mimi Rogers, Billy Asher, Olivia Peterson, Colin Stinton, Sarah Edmondson, Julian Glover, Amber Rose Sealey
release UK 1.Dec.06
06/UK Pathé 1h26
What next? Pegg and Schwimmer
There are too many black comedy caper movies out there, few which are original enough to work (Fargo is still untouchable). This one's feisty, twisty and well-played, but nothing extraordinary.
Charlie (Schwimmer) is a factoid-spouting PhD with a book no one wants to publish, a cute daughter (Peterson) and a patient, loving wife (McElhone) who's also a cop investigating a local serial killer. Desperate for self-esteem, Charlie takes a job in his Oregon town's only business, a huge call centre. This doesn't go well, but he gets drawn into a sting coworker Gus (Pegg) hatches to extort cash from a sleazy local minister. Then Gus' sharp-eyed girlfriend Josie (Eve) worms into the scam. And it's clear that nothing will go as planned.
This is one of those scripts in which something deliberately surprising happens every few minutes--unpredictable characters, sudden bends in the story, massive red herrings, out-of-the-blue betrayals, plot-changing revelations. But in this genre, this is precisely what we expect. We scan ahead for loopholes, every spot where some little dropped hint is going to come back into play. Sure, it's wacky and freewheeling, but it's also so carefully constructed that there's very little actual life in it.
The cast livens things up considerably. There's terrific chemistry among the three central characters who have nothing in common and really should have known better than get involved in this cockamamie scheme. Despite Charlie's academic bent, Schwimmer nicely distances himself from Friends and Ross. His dilemma is understandable, although his boneheaded actions sometimes stretch credibility. Meanwhile, Pegg delivers a remarkably astute performance--funny with intriguingly serious undertones--while newcomer Eve gives a terrific break-out turn.
Director Andrea (Dead End) keeps it brisk and stylish, with striking cinematography by Richard Greatrex (Shakespeare in Love) and lively split-screen editing. But this doesn't disguise the fact that the film is basically just a series of disasters and surprises with no real point besides tired lessons about greed and family values. In other words, it's enjoyable but probably not worth a full-price cinema ticket. Although at least it has the nerve to get truly nasty.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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