Miramax // 1999 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // February 17th, 2003
Stealing is the best revenge
Michael Lynch is Ireland's most notorious thief. Along with his gang of loyal criminals, he commits daring daylight robberies and elaborate heists that anger the police while stirring the public's imagination. Always one step ahead of the system, it seems that no charge can stick to him. And his two wives and several children inflate his status to something larger than life. However, when his brother gets in trouble with the IRA and starts to make promises that Michael refuses to keep, the once loyal band of burglars begins to disintegrate. It also doesn't help matters that Michael is sitting on a rare painting by Caravaggio worth over $20 million that everyone wants a piece of. For one obsessed police detective, Lynch is the ultimate law enforcement prize. Will the masterpiece be the gang's unmaking? Or can Michael hold it together while taking on the cops and the radicals? It's just a matter of staying one step ahead of the game for this otherwise Ordinary Decent Criminal.
Ordinary Decent Criminal is not so much a movie as it is a series of vignettes about the life and crazy criminal times of Michael Lynch. Claiming that most mundane of movie taglines "based on a true story," there is no real plot arc here, unless you find yourself interested enough to wonder whether our charming anti-hero gets away with it all. Ancillary issues, like his odd double marriage, are never discussed (there is a love generation/hippie implication made), and an intriguing bit of history about Dublin and a squatter's protest is glossed over as part of a bedtime story. Without one continuous thread to hold on to, we are left with the capers. They are the events that must bind this jumble together. Unfortunately, they are very underwhelming. Ordinary Decent Criminal uses one of the most irritating cinematic devices ever created: the "imagine this" internal flashback/forward narrative. You know the one. A character says something like, "what if we walk in during the middle of business hours..." and the scene jump cuts to a recreation/enactment of the events. They play out just like the voiceover description explains that they will. We then return to the individuals talking, but it is now post-event, the result having been witnessed and accepted as fact during the hypothetical discussion. Here, Michael Lynch and his gang are constantly spacing out into "imagine this" land, except here they discuss (and execute) heists. Each time one of them says, "I see it happening this way..." you feel the veins in your forehead start to tense up. Handling the crimes in this fashion removes any possible suspense. And since the robberies are the main selling point to this picture, their inert quality undermines any potential thriller style enjoyment.
The casting here is also a problem. Kevin Spacey may, personally, be as Irish as Notre Dame, but he just doesn't come across as a Dubliner. Maybe it's years of Angela's Ashes style depictions of Emerald islanders as grubby orphans from Oliver Twist, or the fact that with his impish, puffy smirk and his wide, quizzical eyes, he looks more like a pity puppy dog than a devious criminal leprechaun. Even more problematic is the sultry, exotic Linda Fiorentino. With a name like that you'd expect her to be wearing Prada and making pasta, not collecting the dole and pulling pints. It's not that they both can't master a brogue (they do have their off-accent moments), it's just that they are ethnically upstaged by true Guinness goodfellas, like Colin Farrell (given absolutely nothing to do) and Peter Mullen. Every time you hear the Americans cry "fook" or "shite," you think they're in the middle of telling a bad racist joke. The script, by Gerard Stembridge, is also laced with insignificance. Characters are poorly defined and their motivations unclear. Lynch makes a single comment about why he steals (it's fun) and that is supposed to sate us for 94 minutes of perfunctory crimes. Also, we never learn where the money goes, or the gang dynamic. They seemingly make millions. But why do they act so desperate? And why are they now so disgruntled? Even though it thankfully avoids the standard "based on a true story" temptation to wrap the film up with an onscreen sentence or two ("Michael Lynch now lives happily in Tijuana"), we know as much, or in this case as little, as when we entered.
Miramax was wise to sit on this picture for as many years as it did (it was made in 1999). Its genial qualities and ersatz, quirky Irish cinematic charms cannot overcome what is, for the most part, an uninvolving storyline. It is also wise to offer it in a fairly barebones presentation. We are provided a very good anamorphic widescreen transfer at 2.35:1. There is one brief moment of compression, but the overall image is good, if just a little too gray/blue/black (obviously, the director's color palette of choice). The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is also unimpressive, as there is nothing really for it to showcase. This is a movie of either people talking or cars chasing, so there's not much of an atmosphere created by the channels. The only extra here is a group of bonus trailers, which wise readers by now understand as signifying ads for titles other than the one being presented. Seeing the trailers for Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown makes one painfully aware of the mild muddle they've just had to wallow through. Ordinary Decent Criminal is, indeed, all three things. It's polite. It's nondescript. And it's a crime if you find yourself exposed to it. This is one heist movie that only steals one thing -- time out of your busy life.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R