Tuesday, July 29, 2008

REVIEW: Fracture

Dude on the right's in trouble. He's up against a 9-foot-tall, well-tanned Udo Kier.

I was actually kind of psyched for this movie. It’s a legal battle of wits between Evil Sir Anthony Hopkins and… some guy named Gosling. Okay, so those of us who don’t watch quirky independent movies might not have gotten too excited about the second half of that matchup, but Jodie Foster wasn’t a huge star when she played Evil Sir Anthony’s foil in Silence of the Lambs, and Ryan Gosling is actually a very good actor with a strong resume, even if this was the first movie I‘d seen him in, which is probably a point in his favor, considering the movies I usually watch. As for this movie, the Silence of the Lambs formula is in full effect. Evil Sir Anthony chews up the scenery while some young legal/law enforcement hotshot tries to keep up. And even better, Sir Anthony isn’t just the young hotshot’s mentor, the Obi-Wan Kenobi from Hell, but the adversary. Nothing wrong with that. He might be Hannibal Lite in this movie, but at least Sir Anthony isn’t playing the ‘shoe shine guy from Police Squad' role.
Martial Arts Choreography by Ryan Gos Ling.

Sir Anthony in this movie is less of a psychopath than just an arrogant sooper-genius prick who happens to have murdered his wife. He’s Garry Kasparov except that… well, I presume Kasparov hasn’t killed anyone. Sir Anthony plays a ridiculously wealthy engineer who loves his complex little rolling marble doohickey (and yes, I know it would help if I knew the word for it), so you KNOW he’s got an equally complex and well-engineered fiendish plot. The subject of his criminal attentions is his wife, who’s sleeping around. Unfortunately, even though she’s played by the love interest from Army of Darkness, we’re not building up to a Hannibal Lecter vs. Ash apocalyptic showdown, which would have made for a vastly better movie.
"Oh, and one more thing..."

He kills her in the most diabolical way possible: he shoots her! With a pistol! I checked the DVD, and there’s no deleted scene where Jigsaw swings by to give him some coaching in the execution arts. But here’s where the real trick comes in. When the cops show up at his mansion, and send in a hostage negotiator, unaware that the wife is already dead, the negotiator realizes that Sir Anthony has just shot his girlfriend! Yeah, isn’t it just the teensiest bit convenient that Sir Anthony’s wife opted to sleep with the very guy they’d send in to his house at this point? While Loverboy is shocked to see that his gal pal is the victim, Sir Anthony is switching his own gun with the one, of an identical model, that Loverboy had agreed to lay down on a table before coming in.
Damn Doom 3! It's the 22nd century! Why can't they put flashlights on their guns?!?

Now, you’re not supposed to actually know that he switched the guns at this point, but I figured that out right away, and I’m not even very good at solving mystery movies ahead of time. But that’s okay, because switching the guns is just a part of Sir Anthony’s fiendish, multi-layered plot to escape justice, right? Right? Well, no it isn’t. What I’ve just explained in the previous paragraph is it. When he goes to court (representing himself, of course), he’s going to spring it on the prosecutor and jury that the hostage negotiator was Loverboy, which he uses to get his after-the-fact confession rendered inadmissible. And they’re not going to find a gun that matches the bullet in his wife’s brain because the one Sir Anthony used was taken home by Loverboy without his knowing.
Wrinkly Old Welshman. A new fragrance from Calvin Klein.

Congratulations, you and I have just solved the mystery. Sir Anthony has exactly one secret (the gun switch) and one piece of info he keeps from the prosecution prior to the trial (hostage negotiator=Loverboy). Wow, that’s not enough of a mystery to pad out an Encyclopedia Brown story, let alone a Law & Order episode, let alone a theatrical film. Sir Anthony’s plan to “fracture” the DA’s case boils down to taking advantage of a coincidence that would be hard to swallow in a Spider-Man movie and a sleight-of-hand trick that GOB Bluth or the guy in Johnny Got His Gun could have pulled off.
Come on down to Bob's Venetian Blind Warehouse! Instantly classify your movie as Film Noir for only $49.95 this Memorial Day!

The only problem for Sir Anthony is that his wife turns out to be comatose, not dead, which adds urgency to the assistant DA’s (Gosling) case. If Sir Anthony gets acquitted, he’ll have the right, as the husband, to pull the plug on her life support and put away the one person who can identify him as the killer. This winds up being the emotional hook that keeps Gosling working on the trial, even as the case falls apart. This was supposed to be his last case for the DA before taking a sweet job at a major law firm, represented by Rosamund Pike (of Die Another Day fame, which we’ll get to soon enough…).
Synchronized Cross-Examination. Even the Olympics rejected it.

Gosling’s determination to stick through the case, at the expense of his own legal career, is the real focus of the movie. You’ve seen this story before, maybe in A Civil Action (class action lawsuit) or Amazing Grace (outlawing the slave trade), and probably quite a bit better. To be fair, Gosling’s likable in the role, as is David Straithairn, who plays both the District Attorney and tricks with my spellcheck. But as brilliant a prosecutor as his character’s supposed to be, from the time that Sir Anthony unleashes his shocker about Loverboy until the end of the movie when he figures out the trick, there’s not much for Gosling to do. Aside from a conspiracy to plant evidence that everyone knows Gosling’s going to turn down at the last minute, this is a courtroom drama with absolutely NOTHING happening in the courtroom for the longest time.
This isn't over, Wabbit.

Gosling’s own trick is at the end, when he figures out after the acquittal what Sir Anthony did. Normally, Sir Anthony would be protected under double jeopardy laws, so he’s free to confess his guilt. He’s been outwitted, though, because he was only acquitted on attempted murder, and has since taken his wife off life support, which makes him now guilty of murder murder. You know, I’m pretty sure that’s not even remotely plausible, even in our train wreck of a legal system. And even if it is plausible, I’m certain I remember the prosecution pulling the same trick in an old Law & Order. If anyone out there would like to peruse the 40,000 episodes of that show to date to tell me which one, be my guest.
Sam Waterston Begins. To be followed by the blockbuster sequel, The Drunk Knight.

Fracture is just freaking lazy. They come up with dozens of clever criminal schemes every year for shows like Monk, Columbo, Dragnet… Okay, I’ll stop there, as I’m really dating myself (Damn you, Nick at Nite). The point is that I wanted to see Sir Anthony do something clever, and then see the kid do the whole Rocky thing and rise from the ashes to out-clever him. But after Sir Anthony deploys his one surprise at the beginning of the trial, all he has to do is smile and be pithy the rest of the way, and we’re supposed to be impressed by his devilish cockiness.

Effective product placement. I'm suddenly thirsty for a Cup O' Noodles.

But let’s not just beat up on the screenwriters. Give Sir Anthony some credit for this disaster. Yes, he’s a great, great actor, one with far more range, self-awareness, and judgment in choosing roles than a lot of other actors considered great. Here, though, he’s on autopilot all the way, playing a character less suited to giving people nightmares than he is to hosting a DVD board game. Everybody remember how creepy Hannibal’s incessant pronunciation of “Clarisse” was? Here, Hopkins’ character (fiendishly named Ted Crawford) keeps disrespectfully calling Gosling’s character “Willie” and “old sport.” Man, that guy must be the devil in the flesh: he dares to mock the guy who’s trying to put him in prison! I think Sir Anthony’s finally gone senile, and thought this movie was about a bratty high schooler sent to an uptight summer school.

"Dammit, Jim. I'm a lawyer, not a cell phone operator."

This movie might think it’s classy and clever, but it’s bad. Heck, I’ll go so far as to say it’s no better than Alien vs. Predator. Want me to prove it? Game on, counselor. Let’s see which movie wins the hearts and minds of the jury in each of the following completely random, but all-important categories.

Nothing like a nice, relaxing game of Myst... DAMMIT, WHERE'S THE *#$%ING LEVER?!?

  • Has clever twist at the end (No qualifiers, but leaning toward AvP)
  • Has Sir Anthony Hopkins (Fracture)
  • Has Lance Henriksen (AvP)
  • Has David Straithairn (Fracture)
  • Has Aliens (AvP)
  • Has Bub Gunton (Fracture)
  • Has Predators (AvP)
  • Has the respect of Entertainment Weakly… er, Weekly (Fracture)
  • Has the respect of Mrs. Paul WS Anderson, Milla Jovovich (AvP)
  • Has a character who calls everyone “old sport” as an homage to The Great Gatsby (Fracture)
  • Has a character who calls the Alien an “ugly motherf***er” as an homage to Predator (AvP)
  • Has an attractive female who isn’t an insufferably dull actress (No qualifiers)
  • Has a running time that mercifully ends at the 100-minute mark (AvP)

"I don't CARE what other people will think."

There you go: AvP wins 6-5. Sorry, Sir Anthony. Maybe if you want to resurrect your career, you should be more picky about your acting projects. Give those Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 people a call back. Consider finally working with George Takei on Heroes like I know you’ve always wanted to. And I just know that you drinking tea with the GEICO gecko would be comic gold. Think about it, old sport. Because as humiliating as those jobs might be, it would be better than watching you pull off a piece-of-crap Hannibal Lecter impression in a 2-hour Matlock episode.

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