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Monday Movies Wishes We Had an AK-47

Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter with a penchant for interviewing his clients about their art collections and their dogs. Establishing an absence of the latter, he makes arrangements to send them on job interviews so he can steal the former. He’s good at it, though not as good as he thinks; the cautious criminal conceals a deeply insecure man, who believes he’s too short for his Scandinavian goddess wife, who will only stay with him so long as he can buy her baubles with his illicit heist windfalls.

For Roger, meeting Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones) comes as both opportunity and crisis. Clas is a high-powered executive looking for a job, and he happens to have illicit possession of a Rubens, worth vastly more than anything Roger has ever handled. He’s also drawn the eye of Roger’s wife.

The interview Roger sets up for Clas reveals a little more about him: his career was with a military training and supply firm, one with special achievements in using microtransmitters (hidden in a gel!) to track subjects via GPS. Roger doesn’t pay this detail as much heed as he should at first; he’s too busy setting up the heist. Roger makes the first move, but finds himself in a very different game than he planned, and it’s off to the GPS-tracked races.

Headhunters is the kind of movie I could stand to see a lot more of. It’s a nasty, violent thriller, its gore and twists riddled through with ample wit. There is a fair bit of nonsense, but the plot has a strong enough momentum that all the odd bits fly out the window like so much unsecured ballast; the core engine is the deconstruction and reconstruction of a damaged protagonist, and that engine roars unmuffled from minute one.

The late screenwriting guru Blake Snyder suggested having “six things that need fixing” in your protagonist. Roger, insecure about his height, refusing to have a child with his wife, sleeping around on her with a woman he coldly dismisses, and stealing art, is so unattractive a protagonist that he begs for punishment more than mere repair. He gets it. His trials are many, and bloody. (And shitty!) It’s not at all novel to tell a story in which a complex protagonist becomes more sympathetic through suffering. Headhunters sets itself the challenge of starting with a miserable bastard of a hero, and letting the story give him his licks.

In World’s Greatest Dad, writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait delivered a controlled, darkly poetic comedy about a man who,upon finding his unlikable teenage son dead from autoerotic asphyxiation, can’t bear to humiliate the two of them with the truth and instead writes him a magnificent suicide note. Through Robin Williams’s sad sweet performance as the father, the movie rages against the parasitism of a consolation culture gorging itself on its own emotions. His follow-up, God Bless America, isn’t as sure about its characters but has all kinds of rage, and falls flat as a result.

Frank (Joel Murray, who played alcoholic copy writer Freddy Rumsen on Mad Men) is willing to patiently explain his case against the corrosive crassness of commercial culture, but what he really wants to do is start shooting. He’s facing late middle age with a brat of a daughter, a sudden firing, a brain tumor, loud, obnoxious neighbors, and a Jeremiah complex. After seeing a spoiled sixteen-year-old on a reality show throw a tantrum over a car from her parents (based on a real viral video), he drives to her school, handcuffs her to her steering wheel, and attempts to set her car on fire with her in it. Roxy, a disaffected classmate, initially calls him for a creep (he’s watching the brat with binoculars from the woods) but reevaluates after seeing him in action. With themes from Badlands playing and overt references to Bonnie and Clyde and Patty Hearst, the two head off on a spree, protesting blithe cruelty and poor cell-phone etiquette with hot lead.

This territory has been mined before — it’s Natural Born Killers meets Idiocracy. Goldthwait’s rage is palpable, but he doesn’t do enough work to shape the characters or the story, and as a result the film comes off on the essayistic side of satire (a maniacal, forty-page-handwritten kind of essay, but not quite a riveting tale).  Frank’s character has the most potential, and Murray’s performance is sweet and understated; there’s a great moment where he explains to a Bill O’Reilly character, lying wounded in the park, that he actually agrees with him on some political positions, he just doesn’t like his cruelty. But too much of the movie is taken up with reality TV parodies or with Frank and Roxy’s riffs on who needs shooting (people who hi-five! people who use the word literally incorrectly!), which would have been more effective in smaller doses. The story would also have gained from a nemesis figure — not only someone hunting down the killers to develop a narrative urgency and sense of impending doom, but someone who could force them to defend their philosophy against some fairly obvious objections.

Goldthwait recently gave an eloquent interview with Vice Magazine — if you’re wondering what happened to him, or who he was besides that weird-talking guy from the Police Academy movies, or if you need a little inspiration to make art on your own terms, you should read it.

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May 22, 2012 - Posted by | Monday Movies | , , ,

2 Comments

  1. I saw Pina (on a television screen) and I wasn’t as excited as Josh was. It started excellent but I confess that after an hour or so I lost interest.

    Comment by Guido Nius | May 22, 2012

  2. I didn’t watch any real movies. I did watch a couple of comedy specials, though. First was Louis CK’s “Live at the Beacon Theater”. This was the special where he recorded it and made it available exclusively through his website. Basically, you went to his website, paid $5, and watched it. It was a revolutionary way to deliver a comedy special and in the first week, he had made $1M. From what I heard on Sirius radio (from another comedian) it cost him $250K to setup the website. I know Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari have used the same method and I’m curious to see how well it will catch on beyond just standup specials.

    The funny thing about all this is I DIDN’T watch the special through Louis CK’s revolutionary delivery method. It was on cable for free. I think it was on FX, which would make sense since they’re the channel who airs his show, Louie. About the special itself? Well, it was Louis CK doing standup, which is pretty reliably excellent.

    Speaking of Aziz Ansari, his is the other comedy special I watched. If you’re not familiar with him, I think he’s on Parks and Rec, which I don’t watch. He’s also done a few movies, the only one of which I saw was Funny People, and I don’t remember his character. In fact, the only exposure I had to him (that I knew of) was I had heard some of his bits on Sirius’s Raw Dog channel. I found it odd because it was the first I had heard of him and he was telling a story about hanging out at Kanye West’s house.

    Anyway, the special was annoying at parts – most comedy specials are, come to think of it – but I watched it by myself and was laughing out loud in several spots. To me, that’s a true test of whether something is funny. It’s easier to laugh in a crowded theater or even when your wife is sitting next to you, laughing. When you’re sitting alone and still find yourself belly-laughing, you’ve found funny.

    Comment by mattintoledo | May 22, 2012


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