The Limey (1999)

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*. Here’s a movie I didn’t like at all.
*. The concept is very simple: the bad guy as hard-ass avenger. The inspiration may have been Point Blank, though this connection is denied by Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs on the DVD commentary.
*. Be that as it may, what I said in my notes on Point Blank is that it has one of the simplest plots ever. This movie is even simpler. British tough guy — identified only by his last name, “Wilson” — comes to L.A. to avenge the death of his daughter, a death that he knows damn well was no accident. He also knows who was responsible. And of course he’s right on both counts.
*. How to make such a story interesting in the twenty-first century? Steven Soderbergh had two ideas. First: fragment the narrative so that we’re jumping all over the place in terms of the actual chronology of events. Second: cast a bunch of veteran actors so that there’s a ’60s sub-theme.
*. I don’t think either of these ideas is very interesting, or new.
*. Soderbergh keeps saying on the commentary that he was trying to find a new way to tell a story. But at the same time he mentions all his avant-garde influences from the 1960s. If you’re consciously borrowing from Godard or Boorman, are you really telling a story in a “new” way?
*. And in terms of experimentation this film isn’t even all that unorthodox. Pulp Fiction was less linear. I found the presentation here jarring, but never disorienting or confusing. The basic storyline had no kinks or twists in it, and even if it did the story is so simple there’s no way you could get lost or confused by it.
*. Soderbergh is a slick director. He can also be flashy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a distraction. Here it’s a distraction, and annoying. My main evidence would be the scene where Wilson explains himself, sort of, to the DEA chief (Bill Duke). It’s not that long a speech, running just over a minute. But by my count there were 21 cuts. Why? Why not just let Stamp deliver his lines? Most actors love having a set-piece monologue like that, it’s something they can really work. But here Soderbergh steals all the thunder, and for what purpose? To what end?
*. As far as a commentary on the ’60s and ’70s goes, what is the message? Some stoners got rich by selling out (Fonda), others went to jail (Stamp). They made better movies back then. They might have had better music too.
*. Barry (Vanishing Point) Newman at least looks like he’s having a bit of fun with his part, like he knows the joke. Luis Guzman seems to have no idea what he’s doing in such a film, and if he were to have asked me I wouldn’t have been able to help him.
*. Then there’s Fonda and his watery nymph. I want to ask how a part as vapid as “Adhara” (Amelia Heinle) ever got into this film. The brainless gangster molls of yesteryear had nothing to this accessory. I want to ask that question, but another comes hard on its heels, elbowing it out of the way. How did a part as vapid as Valentine (Fonda) ever get in here?
*. Is Peter Fonda the dullest actor in the history of film? He must be on a shortlist. He’s likeable enough, but everytime I see him on screen I want to get up and go do something else until the movie starts up again. He’s like a one-man commercial break. Here he doesn’t seem remotely interested in anything that’s going on and perhaps the best that can be said for him is that he’s well cast as the lightweight villain of the piece. Does it even matter what happens to him at the end? Who cares?
*. Put Adhara and Valentine together and you have . . . nothing. The bland addressing the bland. And they’re given several scenes of extended, inane dialogue together. On top of that is the fact that they’re both so unsympathetic and unappealing. She is a kept girl, a plaything some 35 years younger than her owner. He is a googling sugar daddy with an open wallet and nothing interesting coming out of his mouth.

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*. The best part of the movie is the DVD commentary with Soderbergh and Dobbs. Dobbs is refreshingly frank in his critique of the film and Soderbergh’s mishandling of his script, and Soderbergh does a good job defending himself. I enjoyed their back-and-forth all the more because I thought they both did a bad job.
*. Dobbs wanted the movie to spend a lot of time showing Wilson thinking. Normally, this is something I endorse wholeheartedly, but here it’s a waste. Wilson’s thought processes are not mysterious. He’s not a complicated man. He has a clear motive and goal, which he declares at the beginning and follows unswervingly to the end. Beyond this, which I suspect is all there is, it doesn’t much matter what he’s thinking, does it?
*. For his part, in his commentary over the Big Sur finale Soderbergh raises the problem he has when filming something that isn’t “like” anything in his or the audience’s experience. I did not feel that way at the end. I knew exactly what I thought this part of the movie was “like.” The cowering people in the isolated cabin being picked off one by one by the killer(s) outside transported me to Camp Crystal Lake and the Friday the 13th franchise. And that is not a comparison that is to The Limey‘s advantage.
*. It’s a standard gesture for reviewers to describe something as “interesting” when they don’t find it very good or particularly enjoyable. The Limey is a movie that tries very hard to be interesting, but isn’t. In fact, I think this is one of the most flat-out uninteresting movies ever made. And it sure isn’t good. So that leaves me with not much to say.

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