Judge Clark Douglas is a careless critic. He only watches four random scenes from each film he reviews, and he wears earplugs and a blindfold for at least two of them.
A far-fetched fable about a guy, a girl, and the fickle finger of fate.
"Well, how was I supposed to know it was your finger?"
Facts of the Case
Wiley Roth (Colin Hanks, Untraceable) is vomiting in his kitchen sink. You probably would be, too. Wiley found a finger in his house. There wasn't a person attached to the finger. Just a finger, all by itself. Wiley has no idea who put the finger there. Maybe it's the guys across the hall who always seem a little unfriendly. Maybe it's some pal playing a bizarre and cruel practical joke. Either way, the sight of a severed finger is not something Wiley is particularly fond of.
Wiley is fond of mysteries, though. He has a job working at a bookstore that primarily sells detective novels. Though he is certainly nervous about the implications of the severed finger, he relishes the idea of plunging into the case and digging for clues. He also requests the assistance of his eccentric father (Tony Shaloub, The Man Who Wasn't There) and his best friend (Fran Kranz, The Village). They aren't particularly helpful, but at least Wiley will have some company. Surprisingly enough, Wiley and co. manage to dig up some leads. One of these leads is a particularly attractive girl (Rachel Blanchard, Snakes on a Place)…a particularly attractive girl who just so happens to be missing a finger.
Most films introduce us to a poor, loveless, young person with a box of Chinese food. You know the drill. There's a guy or gal who opens the refrigerator and pulls out a box of leftover Chinese food. They smell the box, make a funny face, and throw the box in the trash. However, this film offers a considerably more accurate culinary introduction. Wiley Ross comes home, opens the freezer, and reveals about two dozen assorted Banquet frozen dinners inside; the ones in the red boxes that cost about one dollar each. This small little moment made me happy.
Like a lot of mystery tales, Careless is one that finds pleasure in a lot of colorful asides more than in the primary plot. Sure, the central mystery is engaging and curious, and we do enjoy guessing how the finger might have wound up in Wiley's apartment. However, all the side dishes are the reasons the film is worth watching. The little visual gags, the funny throwaway lines, the eccentric supporting characters, the entertaining contrived initial theories…these are the things that I liked. Here's a good litmus test for you: Does the fact that the name of Wiley's workplace is "Book 'Em" make you smile? Do you wish that such a place actually existed? If the answer to one or both of those questions is "yes," you will probably enjoy Careless.
There is another scene here in which Wiley and the finger-less Cheryl quietly smash animal crackers with shot glasses. It sounds like the sort of scene that screams "desperate indie movie attempt at originality," but somehow it actually works quite nicely. Don't ask me how, it just does. That's what happens on the first date, and it's charming. On the second date, Cheryl buys Wiley an autographed copy of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. This is very generous, almost too generous. It's a lovely thin line that's drawn between the cute and the creepy that adds some welcome intrigue to the relationship. This is the sort of film in which we have stuffed raccoons as clues rather than bloody fingerprints.
Colin Hanks continues to be an appealing actor, and he creates a sympathetic and likable lead character here. Perhaps he is doomed to live in the shadow of his very famous father forever, but I hope not. Tony Shaloub has a lot of fun with his role, a man who seems perpetually grimy and dirty no matter how recently he may have showered. Rachel Blanchard is particularly enchanting here, too. The movie gives all of these characters time to breathe. This 90-minute movie is not too concerned with driving the plot along. Perhaps you think that two people taking a break from mystery-solving to discuss Breakfast at Tiffany's are doing nothing more than providing banal filler. If that's the way you feel, perhaps you'd be better off buying a yellow notepad and a copy of The Usual Suspects. However, I liked the "unnecessary" moments here, and there are thankfully quite a lot of them.
As far as the moments that are actually necessary…well, they're nearly as good. When the ultimate truth about how the missing finger went missing was revealed, a great big smile crept across my face and turned into a pleasant chuckle. This revelation is followed by a semi-random shot of Tony Shaloub throwing fistfuls of sand at seagulls, which has nothing to with the price of eggs in China but everything to do with why I like this film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The transfer here is flat and unimpressive. Everything is rather drab and lifeless visually, and you get the feeling that it's not the fault of those who made the film. Surprisingly, there's a generous sampling of scratches and flecks throughout the entire film. Really? Sound is low-key and satisfying, though John Frizzell's score borrows a page or five from Hans Zimmer's work on True Romance. There are no extras of any sort included on the disc, which is disappointing.
For all the quirky humor in the film that does work, there are a few brief moments that don't. There is an awkward scene in a taxidermy shop that simply feels out-of-place, and an encounter with a couple of dimwitted police officers that isn't as amusing as it ought to be.
There's a quote on the DVD packaging from eFilmCritic that calls Careless, "a three-movie-in-one experience." I'm assuming they're referring to the fact that Careless is a comedy, a mystery, and a romance. The film works reasonably well on all three counts. I recommend it as a solid Wednesday morning rental, or whenever it is all you fellow oddballs out there have picked as movie time. Hey, look at that! I made it all the way to the end of the review without making any jokes about "lady fingers."
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