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Hullabaloo


Saturday, February 23, 2008

 
Saturday Night At The Movies

If it’s Tuesday, this must be a Boschian nightmare

By Dennis Hartley

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 14 years since Pulp Fiction was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. So what can we glean from this little factoid? What hath Tarantino wrought? Well, for one thing, the genre tag “hit man comedy” has now officially entered the cinematic lexicon. And, by the looks of things, (love it or loathe it) it is here to stay.

The latest example is a film that reportedly, er, knocked ‘em dead at the 2008 Sundance festival and is currently playing in theaters-Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges. A pair of Irish hit men, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) have botched a job in London and are exiled to the Belgian city of Bruges, where they are ordered to lay low and await judgment on their cock-up from their piqued Dublin employer (Ray Fiennes).

Ken is enamored by the “fairy tale” ambience of Bruges, with its intricate canals and well-preserved medieval architecture, and decides to go the tourist route. The ADD-afflicted Ray, on the other hand, fails to see the appeal of “old buildings” and would just as soon plant himself in front of a pint for the duration of his purgatory. Initially, Ken lures the reluctant Ray into joining him for sightseeing with the promise of some pub time afterwards. However, it quickly becomes evident that Ray lacks any kind of discernible social filter, displaying a general disregard for local mores and folkways. Ken decides that the best way to stay low profile would be to let Ray pass time as he wishes.

In order to avoid spoilers, I won’t elaborate much more on what ensues, other than to say that Ray wanders off and finds himself a love interest and enjoys escapades like a coke binge with a “racist dwarf” while Ken finds himself thrust into a moral and ethical dilemma that fuels the dramatic turn of the film’s final third. Toss some heaping tablespoons of raging Catholic guilt, existentialism 101 and winking Hieronymus Bosch references into the mix, and voila! (The Sundance crowd swoons…)

So what exactly has McDonagh cooked up here? Well, as much as I’d like to be able to tell you that it’s “an original dish”, I’d have to call it more of a “sampler plate” featuring a generous wedge of Quentin Tarantino and a few tidbits of Guy Ritchie, sprinkled with a taste of Brendan Behan. If you’re a fan of dark (very dark) Irish humor, you’ll likely get a few decent chuckles out of playwright McDonagh’s brash and brassy dialog (and marvel at his creative use of “fook” as a noun, adverb, super verb and adjective). Unfortunately, the humor doesn’t fold so well into the mix with the generous dollops of dramatic bathos and queasy violence. Also, some of the more decidedly un-PC jokes fall terribly flat (I realize that nothing is sacred in comedy, but referring to obese people as “elephants” and a dwarf as a “short-arse” is not what I consider groundbreaking, cutting-edge humor).

That being said, there are some strong performances here, almost in spite of the film’s uneven tone. Gleeson and Farrell vibe a Laurel and Hardy dynamic together that works very well; you almost expect the doughy, exasperated Gleeson to exclaim “Well, it’s a fine mess you’ve gotten us into!” every time Farrell throws more gas on the fire with another one of his Tourette’s-like outbursts. Farrell has not previously impressed me as a nuanced performer, but in this film he proves to be quite deft at navigating the tricky waters of black comedy (that unibrow sure comes in handy). Gleeson (a world-class actor) is superb as always. Fiennes, who seems to be channeling Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast (by way of Michael Caine) goes way over the top with his archetypical caricature of a “hard” Cockney gangster, but he appears to be having a grand old time just the same.

I had an “OK” time on my little Belgian excursion with Ray and Ken; and the location filming does make for a great travelogue, as Bruges truly is a beautiful city-but In Bruges may not be the ideal cinematic getaway for all tastes. A guarded recommendation.

Hit-man “buddy movies”: Pulp Fiction , I Went Down, The Boondock Saints, The Krays , Things Change, I Love You to Death, Buddy, Buddy, Lucky Number Slevin , Panic (2000), The Hit (1984),You Kill Me, The Matador , Leon - The Professional, La Femme Nikita (Special Edition), Diva, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Replacement Killers, Ghost Dog - The Way of the Samurai, Smokin' Aces, Diamonds are Forever, The Osterman Weekend, Mikey & Nicky, Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, The Mechanic, Fulltime Killer, Prizzi's Honor.




…And a programming note for those of you who have the Sundance Channel:

Since events in Cuba have been grabbing headlines recently, I wanted to mention that there will be a rare TV screening of a fascinating documentary that I reviewed here last year, 638 Ways to Kill Castro (March 3; check local listings for air time). If you don’t have cable, it is available on DVD (although not easy to find). Enjoy! –D.H.


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