Silver Screen: Dead Man Down 1/2*
The year is young, but that doesn’t mean the Nightlife’s ace movie staff isn’t already compiling spreadsheets and crunching numbers to determine the worst movie of 2013. Dead Man Down is unlikely to hold the title spot by year’s end, but it’s an early contender that could prove to be an upset winner in the category of upsetting losers.
What gives Dead Man Down a certain edge in the inglorious competition is that it’s actually two bad movies in one-- and they both involve Colin Farrell.
In the lesser of the two evils, Farrell’s shady gangster character Victor is carrying on a mutually voyeuristic relationship with the woman in the apartment adjacent to his own high-rise. They stare longingly across the distance at one another-- you know, like people do. But the fact that they can obviously see into one another’s apartments doesn’t occur to Victor when he murders another gangster.
The woman, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), is a former salon employee who is now living with her mother as a virtual shut-in after being injured in a car accident. She describes herself as a monster, and is in fact called “monster” by the young boys who taunt her and throw rocks at her as she walks home from the grocery store-- you know, like boys will do. Her monstrous disfigurement: Half of her very pretty face has incredibly mild, almost symmetrical scarring that you barely even notice even when you’re looking at it. Her fury at going from beautiful to unconventionally beautiful has driven her into such a rage that she decides to blackmail dreamy neighbor-gazer/killer Victor and coerce him to murder the BMW driver whose carelessness kind of dinged her up a little bit on one side.
The other movie is much worse. Victor works for Alphonse (Terrence Howard), a generic gangland boss who’s being tormented by a mystery killer. Each fresh attack on Alphonse’s business and his men is accompanied by another piece of a photograph that he’s assembling like a puzzle. It’s revealed pretty early on that the mystery killer is actually Victor, who is seeking vengeance on Alphonse for putting a hit on him and his wife and daughter years ago. Victor was a peaceful Hungarian immigrant, but after he’s left for dead yet isn’t actually dead, in circumstances that are never quite clear, he concocts a vindictive plan so complex it makes the decade-long revenge plot from Oldboy look like handing somebody a tin of peanut brittle filled with pop-out spring snakes. Victor loses his Hungarian accent, somehow enmeshes himself in the criminal underworld despite having no prior skills at this, and becomes a top-level gang enforcer for the very boss who ordered his murder. Victor not only doesn’t just kill Alphonse early on, he actually saves his life, all so he can continue sending him pieces of the photograph and ultimately exact his vengeance on the anniversary of his family’s killing.
In the first few seconds of Dead Man Down’s opening credits, the logo flashes for one of the film’s production companies: WWE Studios. That goes a long way toward explaining why a movie pitched as a gritty crime drama so resembles a frenzied soap opera. The script from writer J.H. Wyman is every bit as plausible as any given storyline involving the Ultimate Warrior, the Undertaker, or the Rock before he got all artsy and insisted on being called Dwayne Johnson. It alternates between big dumps of exposition, inexplicable twists, and perfunctory action scenes, and along the way finds the narrow strip on the Venn diagram where “slipshod insanity” and “overpowering dullness” overlap. As a bonus, it has one of those generic titles that could easily apply to a dozen other thrillers released in the same year, so three years from now you wind up accidentally rewatching the first five minutes of it on Netflix before a creeping sense of déjà vu becomes a grim realization you accidentally sat through this thing once already.
Dead Man Down has thrown down the gauntlet. Your movie, 2013.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.