Judging from the preview trailers, Domino looked to me like one of the current crop of groovy movies hopelessly stuck in the immediate now of the mid '00's, featuring grainy film stock, hand held cameras and more shaky camera work and rapid refocuses than a report from the fastest arm of Hurricane Katrina. True, it was directed by Tony Scott, but his directorial history has had more ups and downs than a diesel powered Merry- Go-Round Horse (in short... he's no Ridley). Two things brought me into the fold and convinced me that this one just might be good. The first was the cast, which features a series of current and past names, not the least of which is our title lead, Keira Knightley. The second reason was signified by four words that simply look great together... "Written By Richard Kelly".
Up until this weekend, I would have said that our man Richard could do no wrong, especially as damned near one hundred percent of his output to date has been Donnie Darko. Unfortunately, Domino is a spiced prime rib example of the proverbial "Sophomore Slump". As a script, Domino had a decent enough start and premise, but is a complete misfire in its final execution. It's a real shame to say that not all of this can be placed at the Reeboks of Tony Scott's latest low point. Kelly must share some of the blame for the lame.
Domino begins as a film that feels like it could have potential, reduces to the stage of "not that good" within the first ten minutes, and by the final act it becomes a ridiculous and ghastly, yet predictable, bloody mess. The fact that this all purports to be based on the true life of the real Miss Domino Harvey is, at best, a cruel epitaph (the real bounty hunter passed away during the making of this movie), and at worst a slap in the face of her memory.
This is the story of a wealthy, British born socialite, a former model and (yes, in real life) the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey (star of the original The Manchurian Candidate). She's become a no-nonsense adult, beautiful and bad, whose history (abbreviated in flashback) has led her to seek out the life of a Los Angeles Bounty Hunter. The film kicks off with our main character (played with beauty and brawn by a somewhat inconsistent Knightley) playing battered Verbal Kint to Lucy Liu's Detective Kujan in a rather obvious wave at the general direction of The Usual Suspects. Through a tinny, relatively monotonous narration, she brings Liu's agent Miles through that one big proverbial job that went horribly wrong, leading to her arrest and downfall. The problem is that there is never any clarity on whether Domino's narration is part of her omniscient inner-monologue or her one on one confession to Liu. Sometimes she hears her, sometimes she doesn't.
Regardless, this serves as the trace string in the details of this film, beginning with the obligatory introduction of the ensemble of characters, most notably Domino's bounty hunting partner Choco (Edgar Ramirez), their boss the "legendary" Ed Mosbey (that genius, Mickey Rourke), and the bail bondsman they so commonly work for, old Claremont Williams III (Delroy Lindo). It doesn't take long for this movie to lose focus (both figuratively and literally) as Knightley, Ramirez and Rourke pretty much pose for the intentionally earthquake-loose camera, and the constantly contrived story.
All the while, in that same repetitive and echoing monotone, the character of Domino herself complains about just about everything, as discontent as she is beautiful. Her rich-bitch Idol to the Idle and L.A. sunbathing privilege leads to her frequent lambaste of all things 90210. Naturally, this leaves no surprise when two actual "stars" of Beverly Hills 90210 (Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green) show up to play self-effacing and fictionalized versions of themselves (furthering the convoluted nature of this blurred story).
Of course that's all in addition to pretty much everyone in Hollywood who walked by the production offices on the way to Starbucks being offered a part. From Patrick Kerr to Mo'Nique to Macy Gray to Jacqueline Bisset to Kel O'Neil to Christopher Walken to Mena Suvari to even Dale Dickey they're all here. The good news is that Dabney Coleman is still alive. The bad news is... so is Jerry Springer. Hell, just before Kelly and Scott just give up and throw it all out the starboard port hole, the film actually morphs into an episode of Jerry Springer, complete with Cat Fight and trash talk, in the hopes that it will enrich an already lost plot. It doesn't...
And like I said, that's where the whole thing collapses and loses its minimal charm for good. As the Caper takes over the "Bio", this becomes another ridiculous and light-years from believability piece of over- inflated garbage, so derivative and inept, only the high-dollar explosives kept me from thinking this was a home movie of Ed Wood's! The overly nihilistic and gory-for-the-sake-of-gory last chapter evokes memories of recent failed horror movies celebrating the bad guys as heroes. With the Uber-Insult of Tom Waits' cameo here to give the idiotic suggestion of a mission from God, man, the whole shebang becomes as throw-away as a four-year-old crash test dummy! (At least I think that was a cameo. It was so inconsistent with the plot, I wonder if during filming, the Black Rider himself just ran up to grace them with his presence and Scott was so impressed he forgot to turn off the Camera. T'would be an improvement!)
This is the kind of film that fans will defend saying that its detractors don't get it, and its detractors (should they be worth their Cajun salt) will know well that there's very little to "get" in this obvious and transparent collage. Stabs at the surreal and jaunts toward post-modern and ironic sadistic comedy feel tedious and off-the-rack, and while at times it can be ultra-cool, super-sexy and even fun, it's hard not to find this all to be little more than Sateen-Duralux painted over a paper-thin wall paneling. To say this isn't Tony Scott's best work would be like saying the time I totaled my mommy's Buick Le Sabre on the way to my Junior Year in High School at the corner of Fern Avenue and Kings Highway was not my best driving experience. On one hand, I'd like to shake his hand for continuing to experiment with such box office hits as Top Gun, and Crimson Tide under his belt. On the other, it's hard to imagine a man with such a resume churning out such an amateurish and single-layered film firmly duct taped into the immediate and mockable present. Like we make fun of Neon Leg-Warmers and Glam- Metal Mullets, this is the kind of flick we'll be joking about in twenty years. I might expect something of this sort from a lesser director, like Dick City, but this dude directed The Hunger! The sad part is how egregiously he tries too hard here. It's clear that Domino wants to be The Usual Suspects, that it wants to be Kill Bill , that it wants to be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and that it wants to be Ocean's Eleven... and by that respect, it's a real shame, like the nerdy kid buying the K-Mart knockoffs of all the cool clothes and repeating all the cool phrases, hoping to draft himself into popularity.
I have to admit a few good things here, such as the acting of two of our very best right now, Delroy Lindo and Keira Knightley, working hard with what they've been given. Lindo is always excellent, and though his character is called to "phone it in", Lindo himself always steps up to the plate and swings at the curveballs. It's true that this isn't Knightley's best work, but it's clear that she believes in it and, right or wrong, she offers up all she's got, and looks fantastic doing it. Mickey Rourke plays Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken plays Christopher Walken, and Dabney Coleman plays Dabney Coleman. In short, even those not credited with playing themselves are playing themselves. Speaking of which, it's hard to imagine Ziering and Green thinking their humiliating cameos (seemingly calculated to prove the negative views about those poor guys) would add up to much in their careers. Still, there are one or two laughs here and even the occasional (though very rare) experiment that works (such as the animated interludes linking the players in the corn-ball caper together in a semi-effective, if unnecessary "family tree"). There is also a fair amount of really great nudity in this movie, including Knightley. Especially Knightley. This isn't quite as long or as excellent as prolonged and pretty turn in The Jacket, but it's more than a little lovely.
As the whacked-out and vapidly inconsistent final act comes to a ridiculously unbelievable close, Domino's narration seems to suggest that Kelly and Scott realized that no one would be buying this by now, as she gleefully declares that how much of the story is true is none of the audience's business... Oh, thanks... then give me my $6.75 back, or get naked again. Hell. Texas Chainsaw Massacre moment there, no? But for those of you who are wondering what the opening credits meant when they said "This is Based on a True Story... Sort of", I'll let you answer that yourself! Did you hear about a heavily advertised reality TV series on the WB network about a sexy female bounty hunter and her friends? Did you read in the paper anything about the hosts of that reality series (being Eye-an Seer-Ring and Brian Austin Green) being kidnapped by the stars, brutalized and covered in the blood of a hostage? Did you catch any mention on CNN.com about a big time Casino and Hotel in Vegas being blown up by an Afghan chauffer with its wealthy owner still in it? Did you happen to catch the blurb on Fox News, in these Coptic post-9/11 times, about an FBI Helicopter being shot down in Vegas with two or more Agents still in it? Yes, it's true that, until recently, there absolutely was a Domino Harvey, she really was the daughter of a somewhat well known actor, she really was a fashion model, she really did become a Bounty Hunter, and she really did work with some people whom the characters in this film are based on. As for the vast majority of the events in this flick, if you don't believe it, it's probably absolutely not true. Keira, I'm still a fan. Richard, I'm going to consider this a foul tip on the way to your next home-run. Tony Scott, you're officially on Academic Probation. Why? Domino, with all its potential, experimentation, good actors and hot moments still gets only Two Stars out of Five. See you in the next reel. Till then, till then, I am as I ever was and ever shall be yours, yours, yours, yours!
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