‘Dead Man Down’ Review
A few titters wafted through the screening of ‘Dead Man Down‘ as the WWE Studios logo came up on the screen. “Prejudice!” I thought. “Who is to say that Vince McMahon’s new(ish) venture can’t produce a quality piece of filmed entertainment?” Turns out all skepticism was justified.
‘Dead Man Down,’ a tiresome, predictable slog through every “in too deep” crime story cliché you’ve ever seen has as much subtlety as the average Face or Heel shouting into the mic during a Monday Night Raw. This is a dull movie that only perks up when it veers into the laughable, as when Noomi Rapace‘s character intentionally spikes Colin Farrell‘s character’s two-years-in-the-making vengeance plot because she “had a moment,” but then bounces back into plan five minutes later anyway. Yes, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Colin Farrell plays Victor, a thug and part of Terrence Howard’s security team. Howard, a drug kingpin (but, also, real estate developer?) is being run ragged by mysterious packages and the deaths of members of his crew. The movie opens with a shoot out at a rival gang leader’s. Howard is convinced he’s convinced he’s the taunter because they both cross their sevens.
This opening action sequence (not particularly well shot) is one of only three moments of action in a film that is otherwise a never ending series of phone calls, discussions and people moping around empty rooms waiting for something to happen.
One key plot point which vanishes from view for oddly long sections is the story arc of Noomi Rapace. She plays Beatrice, a French beautician (living with mom, Isabelle Huppert, who bakes cookies) overcome by anger after a disfiguring accident. With scars over half her face (yet still fetching) she wants to see the drunk driver who injured her made dead, and when she catches wind that her building-mate (Farrell) is also a killer, she threatens to expose him if he won’t do her bidding.
It’s all quite ridiculous, and that’s before the big reveal that it’s Farrell who’s out to get Terrence Howard. In a wonderful moment that’s indicative of the screenplay’s level of sophistication, Howard expresses how this may come as a shock to a sleepier audience member: “but you saved my life earlier? Why would you do that if you wanted me dead? Unless you wanted to kill me yourself!” Shockingly, this is not the least subtle moment in J.H. Wyman’s illiterate scrawl of a script. That award has to go to the moment when the mourning Farrell, while projecting home movies of his murdered daughter onto photographs of the men he plans to kill, listens to her explain why she feels safe enough to go to sleep. “Because Daddy takes care of all the monsters . . .” the li’l moppet repeats FOUR TIMES. Gimme a break.
The halfway point of the film features some more mid-level choreographed killings, the only breath of life in this chore of a movie. Why Farrell, an immigrant and engineer whose wife and child were killed by Howard’s mob, has the ability to morph into Batman isn’t explained. And nobody’s asking, because anyone still watching will just be thrilled finally something’s happening.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the movie marches toward its conclusion, with stray characters frantically making more phone calls, tracking UPS deliveries and dragging everyone around the most geographically screwed up New York City on film. (Rapace gets her hair wet in what’s either a Riverdale or Nassau County suburb, then is on a lower Manhattan street the next shot, and then is on the subway and her hair STILL isn’t dry!)
Even though much of this movie was shot in New York (some of it looked like Philadelphia to me, but I can’t confirm) it never felt like New York because the entire movie is false. It’s a dopey premise filled with idiotic characters doing a whole lot of nothing until finally there’s a big generic fight at the end.
Some might defend ‘Dead Man Down’ and say “eh, it’s fine for what it is.” But what, really, is it? Who is this movie for? I would accept a silly premise if it were action-packed like ‘Taken’ or, heck, even ‘The Expendables.’ No one, unless they’ve never seen a motion picture before, is going to have any sort of emotional connection to these characters. Everyone is sleepwalking. Huppert is at least out of place enough to be odd and F. Murray Abraham blesses us with a funny voice, but they are hardly in it. I can see people renting this over VOD. I can also see a lot of people turning to the person next to them on the couch and asking “do you want to finish this?”
‘Dead Man Down”s director, Niels Arden Oplev, is one of the few people whose European original film (‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’) is actually worse than the Hollywood remake. I think it is fair to say I am not eagerly anticipating what he’s got coming up next.‘Dead Man Down’ opens in theaters on March 8.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.