Universal // 1998 // 111 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // March 2nd, 2000
Billy Brown just got out of jail. Now he's going to serve some real time. He's going home.
Vincent Gallo brings us a dramatic film masquerading as a horror film and documentary. The scenes and emotions are exposed like a raw, festering, open wound. Too bad I feel like the wounds were inflicted on me while I was forced, like the films love interest, to be a part of it, or in my case to have to watch it. A masturbatory, painfully narcissistic film that seems to be more an ego trip for Gallo and what unused and rejected ways of using a camera he can come up with. Universal gives us a decent but unremarkable release for this film in DVD format.
I was tempted to just say "well the disc would make a nice coaster" and leave the pro side of the review. But that wouldn't be fair. And a fair number of people like the film, for it's dark and gritty feel, for the painfully neurotic and phobic Billy Brown, played by Gallo, who also wrote and directed the film. Others would say that Christina Ricci (The Addams Family, The Opposite of Sex) stole the show, which she did as the pleasantly plump Layla. Stealing this show didn't take much though. She was absolutely the best thing in this movie, and the only likable character, despite being so pathetic.
Layla has such low self esteem that she enjoys being kidnapped and quickly falls in love with her eminently unlikable captor. For that is what happens in this film. Billy Brown is released from prison after confessing to a crime he did not commit. For some neurotic reason he cares what his horrid parents think of him and has been deceiving them about his life; claiming to be part of the government and married. But now he needs a wife to continue the deception and quickly kidnaps Layla from an aerobics class. Despite several early chances to escape, so patently easy that a 3 year old could have gotten away, she stays his captive, and agrees to pretend to be his wife to the parents. The parents come off so unlikable that I thought the film had turned into a horror film as soon as the film moves to their home.
For some reason (homage to indie films perhaps?) Ben Gazzara and Angelica Huston play the parents, and agreed to do this. Gazzara as the father comes off creepy and abusive to the son, while being loving, way too loving if you get my drift, to the baby-doll dressed Layla, who's breasts are in evidence in nearly every shot. The mother continually watches reruns of Buffalo Bills football games, and casually remarks that she wishes she'd never had Billy since it caused her to miss the last game when the Bills won a Super Bowl. She offers Billy chocolate even though she knows he is severely allergic to it. Perhaps most telling, when Layla asks to see some childhood pictures of Billy, they go looking for "the" picture of him even though they have photo albums full of pictures of themselves.
The film's other theme involves Billy's vendetta against a place kicker for the Buffalo Bills who missed a key field goal in a championship game in '91. Since he had stupidly bet $10,000 he didn't have on the Bills, he blames the kicker for ruining his life. The bookie, played decently in a cameo by Mickey Rourke, offers Billy a way out of the debt by confessing to a crime one of his gangster friends had been charged with. So Billy spends 5 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, and it's the kicker's fault. So Billy is going to kill him.
Universal does the best they can do with this film in the video department. Since Gallo, in true art auteur fashion, decides to use reversal film stock to shoot the film, there is only so much they can do. The resultant soft and fuzzy image is entirely intentional. Even the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer cannot make the film very watchable. There are numerous speckles on the film stock that could have been cleaned up, but otherwise you get poor shadow definition and murky blacks, along with the overly soft image, and all by the intention of Mr. Gallo. Thanks.
The audio track, a Dolby 2.0 is adequate for this dialogue driven film. Little use of surrounds, and no use of the subwoofer are also part and parcel for the film.
The extras are sparse but thankfully so. Fairly extensive production notes did help me understand why the film was so bad; that Gallo wanted it exactly that way in look and feel. A trailer not for general audiences is decent, and telling that when they tell you Christina Ricci is in the film they give a close-up of her breast. Bios for Gallo and Ricci complete the ensemble.
The above was the good stuff. The best things I could say about the film. Here is the rest. Somebody please take away Gallo's director card, before he inflicts another directorial disaster on us. What was already a story I couldn't bring myself to care much about was taken to a whole new level of apathy by the gratuitous use of some very strange camera shots. Flashbacks take the form of a screen that comes right out of Billy's head to grow and fill the display. The flashbacks are horrid as well, when the father has killed young Billy's puppy and the mother feeds him chocolate and doesn't seem to mind his face is swollen like a balloon. Another "clever" use of the camera is shooting still frames and leaving them there, then fade to black for another still. Frankly it made me sick. Then there are just some strange scenes thrown into the mix, like an impromptu tap dancing scene for Ricci in a bowling alley. For no reason I could discern at all, suddenly she is tap dancing with a spotlight on her. Then the scene ends and the movie takes back up where it left off.
As I said above the only likable character was Ricci, but she was completely underplayed. We learn nothing about her; she is just a foil for Gallo's narcissistic whims. And I simply couldn't care less about any of the other characters. Gallo could have killed the kicker, his parents, and himself and I felt the world would be a better place; and I'd be thankfully finished with the film. Horrid people that you would never want to meet, and don't want to spend 2 hours of your life watching on film. Ultimately the only thing I cared about was whether Ricci's top was going to come off, which it didn't.
The opposite of love, it is said, is not hate. It is indifference. I'll save my hatred for something that deserves it, and promptly forget about this film and give it my mark of death, indifference. I see nothing to recommend this film for purchase, but maybe some art film fans who thought the characters in Reservoir Dogs were too likable and the plot not gritty enough might get something out of it. For those 18 people in America, rent it.
Vincent Gallo is sentenced to continued obscurity. Christina Ricci is sentenced to continue to show off her breasts while bridging her career from child roles to sexy adult ones. Universal is acquitted.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Notes
* Cast Bios