Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I am an unabashed fan of author Stephen King. Uncle Stevie and I go way back (in the sense that I’ve never met him, but I’ve been reading his work since very near the beginning), and I can say I’ve enjoyed everything he has written, on one level or another. The movie adaptations of his work, however, have been hit or miss for me. The latest of these, Dolan’s Cadillac, is a huge miss.
(Spoilers will abound in this review. However, if you’ve read the novelette on which the movie is based, you already know all the plot points anyway, and if not, you should be able to gleam everything from glancing at the box cover.)
The movie starts off on the wrong foot, with a terrible voice over. A note to filmmakers about something you should already know: Motion pictures are a visual medium. This means you should show the audience, not tell them. When you use a narrator to explain things, you are admitting you can’t cut it. The narration steals from another King work (did he get paid twice?) for the description of Dolan. The voice over describes him as being someone so scary that birds fall dead when he looks at them. However, in this movie, Dolan looks more like an overgrown kid who has forgotten his Ritalin. Dolan is played by Christian Slater, who I kind of like as an actor, but the script here calls for him to babble uncontrollably.
Robinson (no first name given, played by Wes Bentley) and his wife Elizabeth (Emmanuelle Vaugier) are schoolteachers trying to have a baby, for purposes of added poignancy. Elizabeth is in the wrong place at the wrong time and observes crime boss Dolan murdering twenty or thirty people. She courageously decides to testify against him, even though the federal prosecutor (Al Sapienza) tells her that every other witness against Dolan has been murdered. This doesn’t deter the brave Elizabeth, and she gets whacked, too. Unfortunately, she is killed only because she does a Very Stupid Thing, and even worse, the clever murder plot requires that she do that exact Very Stupid Thing at that exact time. I guess someone peeked ahead in the script.
His wife’s death destroys Robinson emotionally, which Bentley portrays with a goggle-eyed scowl (see box cover). Since it’s the same scowl he uses from the beginning of the movie, the effect is muted. Because the feds can’t do anything, Robinson decides to take matters into his own hands, first by buying a ridiculously large gun to kill Dolan (real assassins prefer smaller calibers because they are quieter and more accurate) and then completely wimping out when he gets the chance to use it, losing a lot of credibility points. Since he doesn’t have the nerve to use the gun, he concocts a Rube Goldberg type trap to catch and kill Dolan. He should have shot him when he had the chance.
Part of the problem may lie in the source material being better suited to about half the length of a feature film (there are only two characters in King’s original story). Much of the script was presumably added as padding to make it longer, and the added material is awful. There’s also the matter of the acting.
Al Sapienza, a good character actor, is fine as the ineffectual federal prosecutor, and Vaugier elevates anything in which she appears, both in terms of her looks and her acting. But Slater can’t make Dolan the monster he is supposed to be, possibly due to the script. It has him talking incessantly like a speed freak, and there are character inconsistencies. For instance, Dolan makes his living running Eastern European sex slaves into the country from Mexico, which seems somewhat low rent for a criminal empire. Toward the end of the film, an associate comes up with a way to maximize his earning, by switching to children, who are more valuable, and easier to pack. Dolan reacts with disgust at this, which is the wrong move. He is supposed to be a monster, and this is a revenge story. Trying to humanize him (I suppose that’s the intent) is counter to your goals.
Wes Bentley was once a promising young actor, who seemed on the verge of stardom after his role in American Beauty. He needs to raise his game or find better roles, or he’s heading for a second lead role in Anacondas 7: Snakier Than Ever.
I can’t recommend this movie to anyone under any circumstances.