Dead Man Down is more like Dumb Movie Dull

Dead Man Down is more like Dumb Movie Dull

SOMEBODY AIM AT SOMETHING: The only thing worse than the dialog is the movie's inability to decide if it wants to be an American popcorn seller or a smart European feature.

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What: Dead Man Down
Rating: F1
Short review: There's a lot that Dead Man Down could say about love, intimacy and trust. But it's too busy making up its mind about what kind of movie it wants to be that most of its brains get sucked along in the stream of confusion.

Dead Man Down is the latest film from director Niels Arden Oplev (the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and it's a muddled, sometimes stupid, mess.

Colin Farrell plays Victor, a man deeply embedded in a New York crime syndicate led by Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). There's trouble afoot as someone's murdered a close associate of Hoyt's and has been sending cryptic messages to the boss for something like three months when the story opens. (There's lots of exposition through dialogue to explain this and, yes, it is clumsy.) Hoyt's twisted up about this predicament, threatened even. He wants desperately to find the person responsible and even goes after a drug thug he thinks might be the source of those threatening messages.

Of course, the dude isn't responsible at all. It's really Victor.

Ah, Victor. Victor doesn't speak much for, say, the first 10-15 minutes of the film and you begin to wonder if he's going to speak at all. This would be a nifty trick in the hands of a more expressive actor but Farrell doesn't quite have the range to pull it off.

We're supposed to feel connected to and invested in this wallflower's story but that never happens — the oh-so-thick atmosphere and clumsy, stilted dialogue won't let it. Victor does try to connect with his neighbor Beatrice (played by Swedish actor Noomi Rapace). She's French, lives with her mother, and is recovering from a recent car accident in which she was disfigured. She has scars. Victor has scars. Though his are less visible. Oh, and he's Hungarian, though he doesn't carry a trace of an accent. He worked hard to get rid of it, he tells Beatrice.

Beatrice and Victor both want the same thing — revenge. She wants to hurt the man who has left her disfigured, he wants to hurt the men who have hurt him. (We'll save the how here. Can't ruin everything for you.) And just to add a little something to the plot Beatrice knows something about Victor that he doesn't know she knows. Until she tells him. She threatens to reveal the secret if he doesn't help her. It doesn't really make much sense, but then neither do a lot of things when these two share the screen together. The dialogue is frequently painfully bad, on rival with what Costner and Houston pulled off in The Bodyguard, and with neither she nor him able to connect on an emotional level, those romantic sparks — damaged or not — never really fly, although there is an awkward and unbelievable kiss early in the story.

Victor, for as smart as he is — or, rather, as smart as the movie wants us to want him to be — is found out before he can fully execute his plan. That leaves him only one option: To go over the top. And over the top it is. What could and should be dramatic and powerful and even climactic is stoopid and stoopidly comical, so much so that I actually laughed out loud when the moment came. Things get messy, CGI-intensive and downright boneheaded for most of the last reel, finally squashing whatever slender hopes we had for this picture in the previous hour-and-a-half.

There's a lot that Dead Man Down could say about intimacy and trust, a lot that it seems to want to say about love as well. But it's too busy making up its mind about what kind of movie it wants to be — a revenge thriller, a dark love story, a violent action flick, American popcorn seller or smart European feature — that most of its brains get sucked along in the stream of confusion.

Terrence Howard, an actor who is usually reliable and who almost always brings an impeccable dignity to the characters he portrays is also shoved aside here. He's given some real crap lines and asked to play a character that is, frankly, beneath him. There are moments when you want to have him surgically removed from this sucker. F. Murray Abraham also appears and it's all you can do to not blurt out, "What the hell is he doing down here?" Armand Assante turns in a flaccid Marlon Brando impression that would be unremarkable but I mention it here so that you can cover your eyes and ears when he shows up and not have to suffer through his somewhat pointless scene. Rapace is at least interesting to watch, although the script refuses to fully explore the complexity and ambiguity of her character and she never quite seems comfortable being Beatrice.

Dead Man Down is, overall, the kind of movie you wish you could un-see. While that can't happen you are in luck — it won't take you long to forget.