Judge Diane Wild often feels as though she's chained to fools.
Why should smart people get all the money?
One of my favorite movie reviews of all time was by CBC-TV's Colin MacLean about Starship Troopers. I'm relying on distant memory, but his review catalogued the defects of this apparently awful film, then he summed up by saying (to paraphrase): "bad script, bad acting, implausible plot, cheesy effects. Four stars out of five, because it was so much fun." I'm not saying I'd agree with his opinion—it was also a good review in that it confirmed my desire to avoid the film—but sometimes you have to throw away the intellectual arguments about what makes a film good or bad and just succumb to the fact that you enjoyed it despite its flaws.
It is going to be hard to find unreservedly positive things to say about Chain of Fools. But it was fun.
Facts of the Case
Thomas Kresk (Steve Zahn, Happy, Texas) is a hapless barber whose life is not exactly charmed. His soon-to-be ex-wife is embarking on a romantic trip to Italy with their marriage counselor, and his latest client is Avnet (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park), a nasty hitman whose ear Kresk has accidentally clipped. After Kresk overhears his plot to steal three valuable Chinese coins, the already-jittery Avnet comes at him gun in hand, slips on some soap, and plants his unfortunate neck into Kresk's scissors.
Kresk enlists the help of his friend Andy (David Cross), an eager Timber Scout leader, to dispose of the body and to help him find the coins. Once they are discovered in the apartment Avnet shared with his transvestite girlfriend (boyfriend?) Miss Cocoa (Orlando Jones, MAD TV), Kresk's next target is English billionaire Bollingsworth (Tom Wilkinson, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), who hired Avnet to help him steal the coins from a museum led by his nemesis (Craig Ferguson). So Kresk hires a sensitive teenaged hitman named Mikey (Elijah Wood, Lord of the Rings) to get rid of him.
In the meantime, the beautiful detective Meredith Kolko (Salma Hayek, Frida) is on the trail of the missing coins, and a smitten Kresk may be letting her get too close. However, the coins are temporarily inaccessible after Kresk's nephew Scotty swallowed them, so Kresk must arrange to smuggle the boy out of the country where he can retrieve the soon-to-be evacuated coins and fence them to a disreputable dealer in France.
I'm missing a lot of plot points in there, but you would forgive me if you knew just how many plot points there are to miss. The movie bounces between timelines, too, with flashbacks explaining the action of the present time, so nothing is ever presented in a straightforward manner.
Instead of listing the cast, I could just say: everyone's in this film. Really. Everyone. The headliners are Steve Zahn, Salma Hayek and Jeff Goldblum, but there's also Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson (or "that guy from The Full Monty" as the trailer identifies him), David Hyde Pearce, Lara Flynn Boyle, Orlando Jones, Craig Ferguson, Michael Rappaport…I'm not saying they're all our A-list movie stars, but it's quite a collection of recognizable and talented people.
On the other hand, the director is Traktor. I didn't know who that was, but my heart sank at the misspelled hypercoolness of the one name. Was I in for a frenetic McG experience? Turns out, Traktor is a Swedish production team consisting of five directors and two producers, who normally create television commercials. If I'd known that on seeing the credits, I wouldn't have found it comforting.
The large cast of characters are each a small piece in the crazy puzzle that is this movie. Or to use another metaphor, the chain of fools really does connect by the end. It may be often confusing and occasionally annoying, but there is a goofy logical connection behind the events, which helps the film not to be quite the mess the plot summary would have you believe. Even the plot bits that can't possibly make any sense end up having their place in the intricate resolution.
Most of the humor in the movie—if you choose to accept it as humorous—is wrapped up in running jokes that are either funny in a "hmm, that's kind of funny" way (characters bonding over parental suicide) or that just never pay off (the ongoing gag that Detective Kulko posed in Playboy magazine). Some situations take their humor from their improbability, such as Avnet's bad habit of not staying dead, or Mikey's obsession with the musical "Cats."
There are very few laugh out loud lines. The only one that stands out for me was Avnet's explanation to Bollingsworth about why he's expendable: "You already told me what to do. I just need to go to France and look for disreputable people. How hard can that be?"
One of the eccentric quirks of the film is the introduction of characters with their names and descriptors printed onscreen. Some examples: Bollingsworth "Expelled from Oxford," Miss Cocoa "Real name Jerome," and Mikey "Studying for GED."
While each joke or bizarre situation may have failed to impress me at first, the cumulative effect of all that insane effort to amuse began to catch up with me, and left me appreciating the darkly skewed heart of the movie.
The DVD presentation is not designed to wow, but it's serviceable. There are some instances of aliasing and haloing, but the picture is generally sharp with good color and detail. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is front-centered and unremarkable, but conveys the dialogue clearly, and this is a dialogue-oriented comedy.
I normally wouldn't count the original theatrical trailer of the film at hand as an extra, but it's the only one we've got here, and it's really funny (possibly even to those who don't find the film funny). Definitely worth a watch.
Chain of Fools is really, really dumb. Most of the jokes fall completely flat. And it made me smile anyway, sometimes even because the jokes didn't work. If I tell you to spend your hard-earned DVD dollars on this, there is a good chance you will write me hate mail and question my sanity. But try it, just as a rental. It might be a pleasant surprise for you, too.
Call me a fool, but I say not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical trailer
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