Appellate Judge Tom Becker was happy to find that the devil's not in the Esquire or the Vanity Fair.
Payback is hell.
In sixth grade, for some reason, our teacher wanted us to write a "Hitchcock story." A "Hitchcock story," we were told, was a suspense story in which something seemingly random happened that actually caused a whole bunch of other things to happen; a twist at the end let us know how these events were related. For instance: a stranger bumps into a man on the street, and suddenly, the man is being chased by bad guys. Later, we find out that the bumping was no accident and that it was all part of some overriding plot.
So, as sixth graders, we processed all this and sat down and wrote stories in which people bumped into each other and then shot each other. Needless to say, the "twist ending" business eluded us.
I bring this up because indie film The Devil's in the Details seems like a product of that sixth grade assignment. It gives the impression of being a twisty psychological thriller, but it seems the filmmakers couldn't offer anything beyond the trappings. This is the worst kind of dumb movie: the kind that thinks it's much smarter than it actually is.
Instead of a film in which everything means something, we have a film in which nothing means anything. Just to be on the safe side, let me toss the words SPOILER ALERT in here now, but with a coda: There is really nothing to spoil. Writer/director Waymon Boone sets us up for a big, twisty reveal; in fact, Boone does everything but flash the words "Big Twisty Reveal Coming!" on the screen.
• We get close-ups of random items, like keys; obviously, these are important clues because otherwise, well, why waste a close-up on them?
• We get all manner of flashbacks, flash-arounds, and flash-aheads, with much of it focusing on seemingly extraneous stuff, but it can't be extraneous, since so much screen time is devoted to it, right?
• We get a funky timeline that begins with "Today" at "8:59 a.m." and then hops back 22 days, and continues to skip about—so we know this timeline has to be important, otherwise why bother with it, right?
• We get characters making statements that are ridiculously and obviously cryptic, and if they weren't hiding something huge, they'd just be speaking like normal people, right?
• The tagline—Payback is Hell—suggests that something that happened during the many flashbacks and arounds is impacting what's happening now, just as the title suggests that the "details" hold clues to some secret, so we need to be looking closely, right?
• Finally, we get a plot that is not just convoluted, it's practically convulsive, with any hope of going from Point A to Point B diverted through Points G, Y, and K; obviously, the plot is merely a curtain hiding a reveal so fiendishly clever, it's worth sitting through all the nonsense, right?
Well, hold on, and remember, there is a SPOILER ALERT here, but I have to say it: There is nothing to spoil. What we get is, ultimately, a straightforward story, clumsily told. There's no Wild Things-style twist, or Saw-like twist, or a twist like The Usual Suspects or Memento, or any kind of twist. It's just a lot of goof and pretense, with a "mini-reveal" that's no less silly than everything that's gone before it.
We get the story of disturbed vet Thomas (Joel Mathews), who spends a lot of time having sessions with a military shrink (Ray Liotta, Wild Hogs).
One day, Thomas rear ends some guy's car. Rather than call an attorney, the guy invites Thomas out for a drink at a bar that just screams, "This is a front for something else!" After much cryptic drunken shenanigans, Thomas finds himself trussed up in a makeshift dungeon. To the surprise of absolutely no one except, maybe, our dim hero, these new friends weren't friends at all. In fact, this has been a plot to get Thomas to this dungeon—yes, the bad guys were able to engineer the fender bender that occured because Thomas was talking on his cell phone and not watching the road. Genius!
So, most of the film consists of Thomas being tied up in various positions and being forced to help the bad guys carry out a plan that is so lame-brained and coincidence-driven it doesn't bear discussing. Since Thomas agrees to help them from the get-go, it begs the question as to why they keep him tied up and tormented; seriously, the amount of gratuitous bondage on display here makes this akin to a fetish film.
Boone does make good use of his nano-budget; the film is location and effects lite. There are a few scattered bits of suspense, but the lack of a significant pay-off is just a tremendous cheat. That Mathews, his leading man, is seriously lacking both charisma and acting chops is certainly a liability, but even seasoned actors like Liotta and Emilio Rivera, who plays the main heavy, are mud-stuck with Boone's overwrought but underthought script.
The Devil's in the Details (Blu-ray) comes from Image Entertainment sporting a quite nice looking 1080p transfer and a dynamic DTS surround track. As a supplement, we get a standard-issue "making of" featurette.
Plenty of devil, just not enough detail here.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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