The best thing about this movie is it made me think of the Jim Morrison poem American Night:
All hail the American Night!
What was that?
I don’t know. Sounds like guns
Welcome to the American Night
Where dogs bite
To find the voice
The face, the fate, the fame
To be tamed by the Night
In a quiet, soft luxuriant car
Hitchhikers line the great highway.
I think those words by Morrison would have made a better script than what writer/director Alessio Della Valle created for this movie that borrows from so many better pictures.
The last few neo-noir films I’ve reviewed looked cool, but the stories were weak (Reminiscence with Hugh Jackman and Bad Times at the El Royale with Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, and Cynthia Erivo). This movie also looks cool, but is complete crap.
Michael Rubino (Emile Hirsch who seems to be channeling Leonardo DiCaprio) is the head mafia boss in New York, now that his father has died. He’d much rather be painting and creating art (which consists of him throwing buckets of paint on a canvas and then shooting it with a gun). John Kaplan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is an art dealer and forger (which made me think of the best movie that got derailed because of Covid -- The Burnt Orange Heresy). He’s opening his own gallery, but the bills are piling up. And the heavies (Michael Madsen, looking like he learned nothing from the route Mickey Rourke took in the ‘90s) are stopping by to make threats.
We meet all the characters with their names shown on screen and what they do. We see that there’s an Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe that is being delivered by a guy named Shakey (I would trust a Shakey to deliver my pizza, not to deliver my painting worth millions).
Now, when the painting is put into a gym bag after a car chase, that’s the first time I realized it was stealing from other films (the Korean picture Beasts Clawing at Straws from last year).
The characters all end up in a place called Dead Rock Star Diner, which would be kinda cool, except it’s trying a bit too hard to be Jack Rabbit Slim’s from Pulp Fiction. This diner has a Hendrix, Morrison, and Kurt Cobain waitstaff. The jukebox tries to play songs that fit what’s happening, so we hear Iron Maiden’s “Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter” right before the big shoot-out. And, the needle-drops were hit and miss. It was nice to start the film with Wolfmother’s “Joker and the Thief” but...Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”? Really? Let’s retire Blondie songs in movies for now. Later we hear Nico and Richard Hawley’s “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” so -- it’s batting .500.
This story is a disjointed mess, and a few times my wife and I were asking each other who was who, or what exactly was going on. But hey...they had a couple having sex in paint, so...I guess there’s that. Now, had I been a 15-year-old boy, that would have been the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. As a man over 50, I’m thinking it’s gratuitous; and wondering how much of a mess it would be to clean up, if it stings getting paint in various orifices, and if the film is trying to rival the food/sex scene in 9 ½Weeks (this is now the second time Mickey Rourke is referenced in a review; never a good sign for a film).
The storyline goes back and forth showing us different perspectives (the way Tarantino did in the brilliant Jackie Brown).
After machine gun fire mows down most of the people in the diner, a few people walk out the door in slow motion, the way Tarantino did with his colorful gang in Reservoir Dogs.
There’s an art curator named Sarah (Paz Vega), who’s dating Kaplan, but I think later she shows a liking for the gangster, but he later kidnaps her and does something with scorpions. This artist/mob boss digs scorpions so much I was surprised Valle didn’t play a song from the German hard rock band.
One of the problems with this two hour movie is that there’s not a single character to root for. They’re all just a bunch of losers. And had they just made this mobster a guy who really didn’t want to run a mob and wanted to paint instead, it could have given us some dark comedy. I like how MadDog and Glory (Bill Murray, Robert De Niro) had a mobster that yearned to be a stand-up comedian.
Singer/dancer Anastacia plays a character that adds nothing (and she sings the theme song of the movie).
Jeremy Piven, who learned nothing from doing garbage like Smokin’ Aces -- plays a stuntman who wears a racing jacket. Probably because Kurt Russell’s stuntman character did in Death Proof, and it’s another Tarantino flick Valle can nick from.
He’s a doofus of a stuntman, who we see fired from a karate flick. He then watches Bruce Lee videos hoping to learn something (and since Tarantino used Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time inHollywood, Valle probably felt he had to, too).
The stuntman eventually does learn something, because in the utterly ridiculous third act, he’s throwing Ninja stars blindfolded, and saving the day.
Two other Tarantino things that were stolen for this movie -- include the story of the Warhol painting and what it took to acquire it, told in a style that reminded us of Christopher Walken talking about the watch in Pulp Fiction.
It made me think they should have had a scene with a bunch of college guys eating burgers, with the Marilyn Monroe painting on their wall like a poster, with Samuel Jackson busting in to take it back and munch on a Big Kahuna Burger.
The other Tarantino thing was the closing credit song. It sounded a lot like The Centurians “Bullwinkle Part 2” which was played in Pulp Fiction when Bruce Willis rides off on Zed’s chopper.
Oh, speaking of the closing credits, I will give Valle credit for blending art and cool graphics in the closing. Yet since it’s the only thing in the movie I liked, it’s hard to give him too much credit.
Now, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t kind of cool to see how the Warhol painting was hidden behind a movie poster, or spying Kandinsky’s “Composition 8” on the mobster’s wall by one of his own pieces.
Valle was born in Florence, Italy. I’ve always wanted to go there and see the art. He speaks multiple languages, plays multiple instruments, and has directed operas. Perhaps directing movies is the one thing he’s not so good at.
0 stars, and perhaps Valle can stop trying to be Tarantino or Guy Ritchie, and find his own voice for his next feature.