On the one hand, there’s a revenge thriller with shootouts, car chases, detective work, and a dynamite climax. On the other, there’s a woefully underwritten love story that can’t think of anything else but to have the leads stare at each other. And not the meaningful kind of staring either — Farrell spends about five-eighths of the flick with this sad/confused expression that looks like he caught his mother in bed with a clown.
Farrell plays Victor, an up-and-comer in a gang led by Alphonse (Terrence Howard). What the gang actually does is not entirely clear, but they appear to be connected to a cocaine-dealing group of British-Jamaicans, at least until Alphonse suspects them of assassinating one of his men and orders the whole lot killed. In the ensuing shoot-out, Victor is wounded, and we follow him back to his ramshackle highrise apartment, where he spends his days watching videos of his wife and kid and ogling the girl in the next building over (Noomi Rapace).
The girl, Beatrice, lives with her somewhat hard-of-hearing mother (Isabelle Huppert) and is haunted by the scars on her face left by a car accident with a drunk driver. She and Victor share pregnant waves to each other until Bea works up the courage to ask Vic out.
He accepts, and their first date consists of staring at each other and exchanging cusses — in other words, a resounding success. That is until Bea goes and reveals to Vic that she has a video of him killing a guy, and she’ll go to the police unless he takes out the drunk driver who scarred her. Women. Of course, Vic has his own shady dealings to work with, and when his true purpose for joining the gang is revealed, I have to admit that it’s a pretty intriguing premise, though I don’t feel comfortable explicitly stating it in this review because it occurs late enough in the film to be a spoiler.
The problem is that Dead Man Down can be really lazy. The device of the lonely father watching movies of his family was played out the first time it was used (I’m thinking of Minority Report and wondering if Farrell, who also starred in that film, pointed that out while making this one), but it’s even worse here because his kid speaks in that overly Kwootsie-pwoo way movies think kids do, and more than a few times is the kid’s speech used to drive a point off a cliff and into your home. At one point we’re actually looking at some photos of people Victor intends to kill while off-screen the little urchin is repeating the phrase “Dwaddy will scware the mwonsters off…” Come on, movie. Come on.
Another red flag is the way Beatrice is terrorized by the local pre-teens, who charge up to her throwing things and yelling, “Monster!” They’ve even scrawled it on her apartment door (and neither she nor her mother want to bother removing it?). Yet, the scars aren’t really that much of a deformation, at least not as bad as some of those kids will look after hitting puberty. Oh yes, and the final tragedy is that Beatrice used to be a beautician, but now, who would ever want someone as ugly as her as their beautician? Oh, irony!
But seriously, how good of a beautician could she have been if she can’t cover up a few scars? Wouldn’t that be a great selling point? Someone comes into her shop, looking for the best beautician they have. Beatrice waltzes right up to them and says, “I’m the best gal they have here!” “Prove it,” the customer responds. “See these scars?” “No.” “Exactly.” I suspect Beatrice wasn’t a very good beautician to begin with, evidenced by her use of a hospital skirt as a top.
To be fair, Dead Man Down does have a good sense of humor, Isabelle Huppert sneaks in some good lines (though her “hearing problem” is questionable and occasionally forgotten, even seconds after it’s brought up) and Terrence Howard’s line, “Bitch, where you go?” had the crowd in stitches; director Niels Arden Oplev (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) can direct some decent action; and, again, the premise is intriguing. But the first half is incredibly slow and even painful — to the point that you’ll want to scream, “Something happen!” often.
Farrell and Rapace have very little chemistry, which is more a fault of the writing than the performers, since they don’t get much to do other than stare. And there’s several giant gaps in some of the characters’ behaviors — in the aftermath of one shootout, for example, Victor walks straight past a guy who’s been hanged from a public building and doesn’t even notice. In another, he takes Beatrice with him when he decides to wax her drunk driver — what the hell kind of assassin would place his client at the scene of the crime and then give her a memento of it? And then there’s the fact that no one seems to mind hordes of sleazy fellows walking around with assault weapons — are there any police in this world?
This is my first venture into a WWE Studios release, and while that may have led the large woman behind me to note, “That means the movie’s gonna suck,” I don’t think it’s that bad, but it’s not very good either. If you can stick it out for the first hour, the next is okay.