18 March 2010

REBEL WITHOUT A BRAIN

O marketing gurus with your fixation on playing keep-away with spoilers take note:

I had no intention whatsoever of seeing Remember Me. It didn't hit #1 at the box office, and otherwise, the only thing that seemed remotely interesting was the promise of a grim spectacle as Twilight star Robert Pattinson fought a mighty, losing battle against his innate lack of talent. I've already paid those dues: I saw the awful Little Ashes, with Pattinson as Salvador Dalí, and he even appears in gay sex scenes in that movie, so a wobbly PG-13 romantic drama promised to be an even duller affair as far as that goes.

And just when I was ready to write it all off, I heard about How It Ends. This is the sort of detail that critics tend to write about with thick warnings about spoilers coming up, and only then after a whole lot of breast-beating about whether or not it is an ethical act for a critic to give away the ending even when there's little or no way to sensibly describe certain stories without that context. In the case of Remember Me, I don't understand that mentality at all: How It Ends is by far the only interesting thing about the film, and frankly, the only reason I even considered paying to see the film was because the explanation of How It Ends seemed so impossibly wrong-headed that I absolutely had to view it with my own eyes. So it was only by breaking the cardinal rule that these critics - who were by no means defending the film - got me into the theater. So I have an idea for the Summit ad men: instead of advertising the DVD release with the aggravatingly vague tagline, "Live in the Moments", you might want to try this one:

"A Romantic Drama Where Robert Pattinson Dies in the 9/11 Attacks. Yes, He Seriously Fucking Does".

Oh, um, spoiler alert.

MY GOD, it's amazing. It's like being bathed in chocolate and candy canes, it's so delectably, irresistibly wrong That a remarkably straightforward and hugely routine (if unusually incompetent) love story about two sullen 21-year-olds should make a grab in the last five minutes for some kind of greater import by invoking the great national American trauma of the last 10 years is one thing: but Remember Me is so barbaric about it! The baldly exploitative nature of it is quite breathtaking. I have seen literal Holocaust pornography - and yet I have still never seen a movie that uses the Holocaust quite as crassly and shabbily as Remember Me uses 9/11. It seems to be something along these lines: "We know that our story is quite bad, but look! HE DIED IN THE WORLD TRADE CENTER! Now don't you feel guilty for not liking our movie?" No, but I will admit that my dislike has been replaced by being utterly flabbergasted. I wonder if this is the way you feel after seeing The Day the Clown Cried.

The idea of using 9/11 as the tragic denouement to a New York love drama isn't inherently vile, I suppose, though it would be stunningly difficult to pull off: at a minimum, it would need a singularly charismatic lead actor inhabiting a role written to be at once absolutely specific and yet emblematic of the soul of the city in the early days of the 21st Century, while presenting from beginning to end a story so compelling and heartbreaking that the audience is perfectly willing to regard it as a moment of history trapped in a bottle. Remember Me has none of these things: it has Pattinson as Tyler Hawkins, a 21-year-old in the summer of 2001 whose family was ripped apart by the death of his elder brother years ago. Tyler is supposedly brooding and hurt, pained by his loveless father (Pierce Brosnan, equipped with a phenomenally broad Brooklyn accent), and finding solace in the arms of the equally wounded Allie Craig (Emilie de Ravin), but mostly he's just an unlikable asshole. It's hard to say how much of this is the fault of first-time screenwriter William Fetters, who doesn't seem to release that Tyler is mostly an unjustified crybaby, and how much is the fault of Pattinson, who appears to have heard that there was once this fellow named Marlon Brando, but does not seem to have gone out of his way to watch The Wild One, and thus his performance consists only of directionless angry mutterings. Either way, Tyler's character appears to consist solely of his reluctance to shave and his massive cigarette habit that is given more screentime than most of the named characters.

It is damnably tiresome to spend so much time in the company of such a perfectly unlikable individual played so lamely, and the film's minutes scrape by endlessly as we watch this miserable bastard hero act pouty and horrid, and generate no sexual chemistry with his paramour whatsoever (though at least they have more than the pronounced anti-chemistry Pattinson shares with Kristen Stewart over in Twilightville. But have no fear! Tyler is far from the only character in the movie who is completely rancid. There's also his precocious young sister Caroline (Ruby Jerins), a particularly grating example of the irritating child trope, and his roommate Aidan Hall (Tate Ellington), who in a horror film would be the odious comic relief, and a singularly unendurable example of the form; here he's just the tragic clown, or some damn thing. My mind pretty much shut down in protest every time he appeared on screen.

Fetters's screenplay is a slapdash mess, beginning with a prologue from Ally's POV that doesn't fit into the structure of the rest of the film in the remotest degree, and after that it's pretty much just a pushy countdown from May to September, with dates studded in gracelessly so we know exactly where in time we are. The dialogue is better left unmentioned; though I can't help but admire the brazen way that a prominent line early in the film is stolen from a particularly iconic moment in Se7en, but otherwise, if you're morbidly curious, the trailer has some terrifically choice bits of insane, undeliverable purple prose ("I'm undecided." "About what?" "Everything.")

As for director Allen Coulter - a freaking Sopranos veteran - he presents the material with a slackness unforgivable in a college student. There are some flat-out terrible compositions liberally peppered throughout the film (my least favorite is a shot in a library that cuts off Pattinson below the neck), and the editing is often clumsy to the point of dysfunction; a cut from a high angle to the same shot, but from a low angle, amateur-hour mistakes like that. Jonathan Freeman's cinematography is as dour as the story and the characters, full of portentous shadows that don't apparently mean more than "these are sad people - look at their sadness!"

In short, Remember Me was already a damn bad movie, and that mystifying, inexplicable gotcha ending merely pushes it that extra bit into soul-scraping wretchedness. There's not one thing I can really point to as right about the whole affair: even Chris Cooper, that endlessly reliable character actor, can't boast a single worthy moment. But there is that gonzo ending, and I know that whatever I say, if you're morbidly curious, then you'll seek it out. Certainly the warnings about how godawful dull it was weren't enough to dissuade me. And that is why I will leave the specifics of How It Ends a surprise: for the narrative context and the visual way that the ending is presented are as immaculately ill-conceived as the 9/11sploitation itself, and I shouldn't want to ruin all the fun for you.

1/10

12 comments:

Zev Valancy said...

I was watching the Olympics with my mom a few weeks ago and an ad for this came on. And she described it as a "romantic drama with actors nobody's ever heard of," or something similar. I have never been so jealous of her relative ignorance of pop culture.

And this review is majestic. Is th8is the first 1/10 you've given since "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"?

Mr. K said...

You know, of all the actresses on LOST I'd like to see carry a feature film, Emily de Ravin is neck & neck with Evangeline Lilly. At the bottom of the list.

Oliver said...

I like commenting on other people's blogs because I can say things like "but Emily de Ravin is so fucking hot" and not lose what's left of my journalistic integrity.

javi75 said...

I'm sad for Coulter and Freeman, I've liked their previous work.

Rick said...

While I still think you might have done wrong by giving the ''surprise ending'' (I gave advanced warning in my review) my problem with the ending is that it struck me as a cheap way out of the situation. It's as if the screenwriter said to himself, ''How do I end this? Oh, yes, here's a ready-made solution on how to wrap up the film''. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

By the way, greetings from London.

RC said...

Woa. that is crazy...I'm surprised this is the first I've heard the ending...thanks for spoiling for me, becausee that's crazy.

Rebecca said...

I remember when I first saw this trailer, I thought, "Why are all these non-Americans playing Americans? What purpose does it serve? Why can't they just be Brits and Aussies in this same story?" But apparently there is a reason, and it just makes things even more stupid. Thanks for enlightening me, Tim.

Mr. K said...

I believe I will now end all my romantic scripts with an entirely unrelated national tragedy.

"I love you, dear, now let's go see the Hindenburg land."

"Now that we've saved our marriage, let's go vacation at the Chicago 1968 Democratic convention."

"This romantic getaway at Pearl Harbor is incredibly cheap. You never expected us to come here in December, now did you?"

Stefan Vlahov said...

Tim you've offered your opinion.

Here's mine:

You didn't see this movie.

Dayna said...

http://stefansreviews.blogspot.com/2010/01/top-50-2000-2009-50-41.html

Tim said...

Stefan: can I ask you to expand on that a bit? I'd be genuinely interested to know what you saw of value here.

Kata said...

Whoa. A film even worse than Twilight? You made me curious.