Monday, September 15, 2008
Trying on the Cranky Pants for size: Burn After Reading
[Vague spoiler alert. If you skip the review, the main point is, don't go to see Burn After Reading.]
Tim Goodman, TV reviewer for the S.F. Chronicle, does some great stuff, and some of his best is when he is going to give a bad review, at which time he calls himself Mr. CrankyPants. This week, I am fitting myself for a pair of Cranky Pants, reviewing some movies and TV that deserve a damn good whacking.
The number one movie in America is Burn After Reading, the new film from Joel and Ethan Coen. If you've seen the ads, and they have been playing on TV for months, you'll see that it is has a great cast. John Malcovich, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, pictured here, are just the best known of the cast. A lot of other really good actors show up here as well, including Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons and David Rasche. The problem is that the movie is billed as a comedy, and it isn't funny.
There's a lot of swearing, and swearing can be funny, but not here. Characters have funny flaws, but I wasn't laughing much early, and after a certain point, I wasn't laughing at all.
The big problem is two very not funny acts of violence, portrayed very graphically. Some of the audience I saw the movie with were still laughing during the first pivotal scene, but I stopped and so did Jodi, the friend who went to the movie with me.
I'm not against slapstick, and not even against graphic violence in a comedy if those are the ground rules. I laughed my ass off at Shaun of the Dead, but I knew going in that it was a horror film/comedy. The Coen Brothers' earlier film Raising Arizona is about the kidnapping of a child, and has some very violent scenes, but it sticks to some rules. We see by reaction shots that the baby never thinks of himself as being in grave danger, and the worst violence happens to the comic villain, The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, played by Randall "Tex" Cobb, but because he is nearly a cartoon villain, when he gets blowed up, it's almost more like Yosemite Sam or Wile E. Coyote.
Burn After Reading plays like a bumbling caper comedy, but then... BANG! Not a comedy anymore. The character who gets the brunt of the violence doesn't deserve it by showing evil tendencies. There's even a second act of violence nearly as graphic, and the second victim deserves his fate even less.
These are small spoilers, I know, but I want to warn people away from this flick. I really hated it, and now that it is so popular and getting generally good reviews, I get the feeling a lot of people will see it and come away disappointed.
Mr. Cranky Pants says save your money.