Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Give 'Em Hell, Malone (2009)

Pretty sick noir/action flick about Tom Jane as a gun for hire on a quest to recover a stolen briefcase, and its contents. The plot is derivative, and lifts from many different films, but that is redeemed by the pace of the film, which is nearly breakneck. Between the snappy dialogue, the action, and the lively production design, there is always enough going on here to supercede the story which is, aside from being cliched, sorta thin. The villain, a corporate exec, rants and raves on a phone in front of a huge fireplace, as if he's the devil himself, and Malone himself is nearly a superhero; he raves as he takes bullets in the opening scene, "Some guys are harder to kill than others; lucky for me, I'm one of those guys." There is a fine line between noir and camp that films like Lucky Number Slevin try, and fail, to achieve, and this film treads it successfully for the whole endeavor.

The film is exceptionally well cast. Tom Jane is a natural for the lead, as one who has seen his performances as Neal Cassady and the Punisher can attest to, delivering his meaty, noir dialogue with zeal; one of his strengths as a performer is that there is a tangible sense of energy when he is engaged with the material (Boogie Nights, The Tripper), and this is a perfect example, and it keeps his hard-boiled noir hero from becoming a full cliche. Ving Rhames is one of those few dudes who can refer to himself as a big, bad, black motherfucker and have it seem, rather than goofy, sickeningly badass. His villainous right-hand-man character is simultaneously violent and sympathetic, creating an actual foil to Malone rather than an obstacle; if the "To Be Continues" subtitle at the end of the feature is to be believed, you can bet Ving's character will play a prominent role. Elsa Pataky is a serviceable, if slightly undercooked, femme fatale, and Leland Orser turns in a brief, but dependable performace as Malone's handler. Two supporting performances really stand out, and those are French Stewart, as a hilariously cheesy lounge singer/stoolie, and Doug Hutchison as "Matchstick," a pyromaniac villain covered head to toe in burn scars, with increasingly impressive makeup effects. Hutchison may be taking a cue from Heath's Joker with his hyper-American delivery and almost-proud psychotic ravings, but takes it so far over the top that it registers as a purely comic creation, and, as in Punisher: War Zone, Hutchison's take on the material elevates it from interesting to truly memorable status.

Highly Recommended for fans of noir, Tom Jane, or Russell Mulcahy. Myself, as a fan of Highlander, Ricochet, and The Shadow, I consider this a return to form for the maligned action director; I hope he finally finds his niche with moderately-budgeted, highly stylized action flicks like this.

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