Saturday, April 5, 2014

Murder by Numbers

My apologies for the long silence from Chateau Maine. It's just that everything has been so hectic, what with all the daily trips down to Rosita's Ice-A-Rama to continue rehearsals for my elaborate new theatrical presentation, Aida on Ice. I regret to report that I had to replace Miss Tonya Harding as my skating coach; she was simply too unreliable and kept trying to do a move she called 'breaking the knee caps' which I found very difficult to master and completely unnecessary to the plot, as it would have forced Amneris out in the first act. My new skating coach is a Ukrainian lady named Svetlana who speaks very little English. From what I can tell, she's attempting to make my jumps a little higher and keep me from those three point buttocks landings that I do so well.

The documentary crew is getting great footage for the reality series, Project GreenLester, which will show the entire process of creating such an extravaganza from page to stage. As I am such a great female role model, the Oxygen network is expressing interest and my people are in talks with the makers of 'Flamingo Fresh' feminine hygiene products to be the primary sponsors. Just so long as I don't need to demonstrate their application on camera. I saw a rough cut of what will be episode one of GreenLester and I must say it's compelling television, especially the fight between the pee-wee hockey team and my chorines over who gets the rink at 3 PM on Thursdays.

I've barely had time to think, there's so many decisions to be made, but I did find a little time to sneak off to the local Cineplex in the company of nurse Lynn and my private decorator, Mr. Brad, to see Sandra Bullock's new film Murder by Numbers. I adore Sandy and offered her a part in Aida on Ice but her people thought she shouldn't play a lesser billed part to a star of my magnitude so she passed.

In this film, she's playing a tortured homicide detective with the improbable name of Cassie Mayweather. Detective Mayweather is saddled with a somewhat inexplicable murder of a woman in a small, but wealthy California town. It looks a good deal like San Luis Obispo but it's never clearly identified. She's also saddled with a new partner (Ben Chaplin) whom she immediately beds and then pushes away. Cassie is obviously a tortured soul with a secret (which becomes blatantly obvious twenty minutes into the film, even though the director doesn't reveal it until the end).

Her chief suspects in the murder are a couple of mismatched high school students, Richard (Ryan Gosling) - the popular golden boy, and Justin (Michael Pitt) the bright geeky loner who always gets picked upon. These two are locked in a strange, secret homo-erotic relationship of power and control where their sophomoric interpretations of Nietzsche and Kant lead them to explore their darker sides. It's clear from the beginning of the film that this pair is guilty of a Leopold and Loeb style murder and the fun involved is whether Cassie is going to be smart enough to be able to pin it on them, especially when Richard's family are amongst the town's leading citizens and she's under a lot of pressure from her boss (Tom Verica) not to look that direction.

The film is obviously a clash of wills and styles between director Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune, Single White Female) and the studio as personified by executive producer Bullock. Schroeder is clearly interested in his murderous juvenile protagonists and examines their twisted relationship with a jaundiced, European eye. He sublimates the homo-eroticism more than he should (a sex scene or even a kiss between them would have made a good deal that is maddeningly obtuse much more clear), probably at the behest of nervous executives. But his young actors are good enough to create memorable characters who propel the story along towards its inevitable ending. When the film focuses on them, their relationship, their manipulation of an unwitting dupe (Chris Penn as a redneck drug dealer), and their planning and committing of murder, it sizzles.

Bullock, on the other hand, (and the studio behind her as she's the star) thinks the film is all about the conflicted Cassie. Her story and her relationship with her colorless partner aren't in the least bit interesting and Schroeder treats those scenes in a perfunctory way. Every time he cuts back to poor Sandy, you can feel a collective exhalation as the audience relaxes back into torpor until the film can resume again. With the same director, screenplay, a lesser light in the Cassie part, and some judicious editing to make the youths the main focus, this could have been a dynamite film. Instead, it's a lot of wasted opportunities. It really runs out of steam in the last act when interrogation scenes start to drag and a rote damsel in distress finale seems tacked on at studio (and Bullock's) insistence, rather than for any real dramatic purpose.

Both Mr. Gosling and Mr. Pitt are young actors to watch. With luck, they'll move on to other good roles in better films. Ms. Bullock, who really is an endearing kooky girl next door type, should shy away from trying to play conflicted drama and stay with romantic comic turns.

Broken clock. Caviar vomit. ATM security photograph. Hidden camera filming. Body dumping. Gratuitous kicking of Ben Chaplin out of bed. Coca-Cola product placements. Calculus study group. Gratuitous angry police supervisors.

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