Sunday, October 10, 2004


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Special Engagements)

Rick O'Lette (Bill PUllman) is a bastard, and not a lovable one, when the movie that bears his name starts. And that's fine. This movie's gleeful amorality is perhaps its best feature, and when the more savory elements of Rick's personality come to the fore, the movie loses a bit of its zing.

But not all. This is, after all, an adaptation of an opera (Rigoletto, if the name isn't a complete giveaway) written by Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, and as such features broad storytelling and dark, absurdist humor. There are moments of delightful surrealism, such as when Buck (Dylan Baker), who says he's an old acquaintance of Rick's, introduces himself in a surveillance-themed bar and says he has his own business - and then produces a card that says "DUKE - My Own Business". I'd also love to know exactly what the parallel in the opera is for a couple of Rick's daughter Eve (Agnes Brucker) giggling while engaging in "adult chat" with Duke (Aaron Stanford).

Alas, all too soon, we see Rick's human side, as he's shaken by the tongue-lashing (and curse) he receives from Michelle (Sandra Oh), a woman he had berated in an interview in the morning and encountered by chance at night (costing her her job); he also gets sentimental with his daughter about the loss of her mother. It's not that Pullman is bad here - although he does seem out of place in a white-collar role, as usual. The movie just seems to contract a little, not going as completely over-the-top as it had before.

The cast is rather good. This sort of role isn't Pullman's forte, but he handles the back-and-forth well, and when he has to appeared cowed by his much younger boss, he gives off a great sense of embarassment by it. As that boss, Stanford is appropriately weasel-like and pathetic. Dylan Baker, of course, gets the most entertaining bits. It must fun to play the morality-free character.

The story is generally good, and the back-and-forth dialogue is fun, although it occasionally shows its origins. Not having seen Rigoletto, I can't say this for sure, but I'm willing to bet that the company Christmas party at the end was originally some sort of masquerade ball, since the denoument apparently involves someone confusing two characters who can't possibly be mistaken for each other. Considering the research Buck claims to have done on Rick beforehand... well, how hard would a photograph been to procure? A simple picture! Even in this often-surreal movie, Handler and director Curtiss Clayton should have stood back and said, no, people won't buy that. I'm not quite sure what I think

That is, though, a somewhat minor complaint - the movie brings the funny for its first half and the basic story is strong enough to carry the second, even if the details aren't quite as juicy.

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