Dir:- Rob Minkoff
Starr:- Ashley Judd, Patrick Dempsey, Jeffrey Tambor, Tim Blake Nelson, Matt Ryan, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mekhi Phifer, John Ventimiglia
Warning:- This is a ‘nasty’ review. Minkoff and Co. clearly catching me on a bad day.
Flypaper flags up from the very beginning its caper qualities. A nicely constructed animated opening credits sequence seems to be paving the way for a heist movie very much in the mould of The Pink Panther films. Alas, Flypaper gets itself in a muddle, not sure whether to aim for the broad comedy of Sellers and Lom, the wise-cracking comic violence of Tarantino, or the uber-pretentious twist-thriller for idiots malarkey of Identity. As a result much of the intrigue of the opening twenty minutes dissipates into an evermore depressing series of monumentally clichéd flashback sequences, whilst mid-script the dialogue appears to exit stage left chased by Patrick Dempsey’s John Nash impersonation.
Initially there is a lot to like about Flypaper. The script is from John Lucas and Scott Moore, who co-wrote the 2009 summer comedy smash The Hangover. The cast is populated by quality small screen actors such as Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show), Phifer (ER), Ventimiglia (The Sopranos) and Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy). Whilst the initial plot gimmick, a bank being robbed on the same day by two very different sets of robbers, suggests the movie will be engaging and fairly original. So what goes so grievously wrong that by movie’s end there is a feeling that 84 precious minutes of life have been butchered and brutalised beyond existence?
In many ways Flypaper has a complete crisis of confidence somewhere around a third of the way into the movie. Having managed to introduce us to a host of smart-mouthing, wholly eccentric characters during the opening heist sequence, once the film has set up its screwball premise, it seems to wastefully systematically shutdown all narrative exits in much the same way as the mysterious third robber bumps off his victims. Phifer and Ventimiglia’s professional crew, fleshed out by the absurdly ‘cockerknee’ Welshman Matt Ryan (one of the stars of the poor Criminal Minds spin-off Suspect Behaviour), are striking Jeffrey Tambor’s city bank just as it is closing for the night. As they go about getting into place a puzzling numbers-geek played by The Woo-Woo Kid (Dempsey) himself, strikes up a conversation with bank teller Ashley Judd (entirely wasted in one of the most impressively one-dimensional roles of her scattergun career). At the exact point that Ventimiglia and his crew are about to make their move, Tim Blake Nelson and Pruitt Taylor Vince enter as two hillbillies (does Nelson actually do anything else but nowadays), called Peanut Butter and Jelly.
At this point the movie could very easily have veered in the direction of smart ‘caper’ movies such as the ingenious Bill Murray flick Quick Change (one of the most undervalued movies in the genre), but instead it gets bogged down in the kind of thoughtless ensemble action sequences beloved of dire 80’s films such as Clue. Minkoff, who directed The Lion King, seems completely out of his depth, as he cobbles together a series of needlessly expensive special effects sequences, around one of the most redundant pieces of writing to have come out of a Hollywood script surgery in a very long time. It’s not quite Burn Hollywood Burn, but then it’s not even misunderstanding satire in the way that abomination of a movie did.
What is so difficult to understand about the Hollywood system is how a no-star, zero-ambition, by-the-numbers action vehicle like this, will almost always acquire the necessary funding from somewhere. In the case of Flypaper that funding has clearly been rather substantial, with absolutely no value for money being salvaged anywhere outside of the credits sequence. Even more disappointingly the cast assembled for this effort deserved so much more, which when compared to movies like Quick Change or Palookaville only magnifies the ways in which this film fails so miserably.
The carelessness of the scripting is where everything really falls flat. Lucas and Moore’s dialogue starts of fairly witty, sharp and subversive. Yet after the initial stages of the bank robbery much of the caustic humour becomes badly signposted crudity, with a particularly unfunny joke about homosexuality being flogged to death and then resurrected, only so it can be flogged some more. Gaping plot holes begin to emerge early on, such as the failure to acknowledge that if one person has already been shot during the robbery, wouldn’t they have somebody expecting to hear from them just like everyone else who gets a phone call. Characterisation is jettisoned pretty quickly to, with Natalia Safran’s Swiss Miss literally serving as a soft pornographic prop and then being offed, having barely said a single word. Even Ashley Judd, ostensibly the top-liner alongside Dempsey, has very little to do during the film other than wait her turn for the ‘shock’ revelation. This kind of lazy character detailing really looks even more risible when you consider how quickly a thirty-minute television show can construct three-dimensional characters for an audience to care about.
It is this last point which is perhaps the most important one for studios to bear in mind when considering future funding options. In the current media climate film is now being ritually disembowelled by the richness of current ‘high-end’ television comedy and drama. A ninety minute to two-hour movie, simply cannot compete with the narrative intricacies and razor-sharp writing of something like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Nurse Jackie or Community. Rather than considering what it is that a shorter dramatic form can do effectively, the film industry seems content to inundate the market with teen-targeting blockbuster franchises and this kind of derivative, ill-thought-out, gimmicky drivel. The death of cinema will most likely not come about because of digital piracy, but rather as a direct result of the way in which the industry has serviced its 30+ audience with the kind of garbage that a festival food stand would feel ashamed to serve-up to a paying punter. There is no need for an art house overhaul of the cinematic medium (as suggested by Susan Sontag back in the 90’s), to provide an audience with a turgid diet of ‘seriously’ pretentious film. There is, however, a need for the industry to understand what it can do significantly better than television and focus its funding models on providing avenues for this kind of aesthetic expression, rather than throwing money away on the likes of Minkoff, Lucas and Moore, who to paraphrase a Woody Allen classic, seem content to take the money and run.