Monday 8 October 2012

Cat Run (2010)

Director: John Stockwell
Stars: Paz Vega, Janet McTeer, Alphonso McAuley, Scott Mechlowicz, Christopher McDonald, Karel Roden, D L Hughley, Tony Curran and Michelle Lombardo

In need of a mindless action movie last week, this one leapt out on Netflix and cheered us all up immensely. It's far from the best film we've ever seen, in any category you want to lump it, and it has a slew of faults that simply can't be ignored, but it's great fun and I have a feeling that it's one of those pictures that we'll keep referencing years from now. It's obvious from the beginning that it so wants to be a Guy Ritchie movie, merely with a footprint that spans all of Europe rather than just England, but after about ten minutes it decides that it can't be bothered. If anything, it turns into a sort of schizophrenic take on action movies like True Lies, with one mind wanting to make a buddy comedy like Rush Hour, another wanting to go for gritty Tarantino coolness and a third thinking that maybe the European setting warrants a Luc Besson vibe. By the time it's over, we're left wondering what we just saw and remembering snippets rather than a coherent movie.

We begin in Boka Kotorska, Montenegro, introduced to a host of key characters in true Ritchie fashion. Branko Jakovic is The Boss, as in a crime boss with a veneer of social respectability. He hosts an orgy in his huge mansion, for guests like Bill Krebb, aka The Pervert, an alcoholic ex-senator who's now the US defense secretary. He enjoys the attentions of high priced escort girls like Catalina Rona, The Exhibitionist, who is somehow ostensibly both the lead of the movie and its MacGuffin, both of its strands being about finding her. She's on the run after Krebb strangles another of those escort girls and she's sought because she stole a hard drive that contains the footage. Daniel Carver, Jakovic's scary ex-Ukrainian special forces security guy, is tasked with fixing the problem, so The Enforcer hires The Seasoned Assassin, Helen Bingham, to track Cat down while Rona accidentally inspires a unlikely couple of detectives to do the same.

These three pursuers couldn't be more different. Two are The Loner and the Extrovert, a couple of young friends starting out in business together from an office above a blue movie house. The Loner is Anthony Hester, a bright but unsuccessful cook hiding from his family, so laid back that he's almost lying down. The Extrovert is his friend, a black karaoke singing chick magnet called Julian Simms. Together they're like Holmes and Watson, if Watson was played by Chris Rock and Holmes was on sedatives. Bingham, however, is prim, proper and very British; also very tough, very calm and very professional. She's two parts Helen Mirren to one part Maggie Thatcher with a seasoning of James Bond. To be brutally honest, we don't care where the plot goes. We're just watching to see what insanity this trio are going to get up to next. By comparison, Paz Vega is a sexy lead but she's given little to do once the story settles down and she's sadly lost in the mix.
Many have called Janet McTeer out for praise. She does dominate proceedings as Bingham and she's glorious fun to watch, but she's hardly an original character. I'm not convinced that there's anything original in her portrayal whatsoever, but it's difficult to imagine the role being played any better by anyone else. I liked the unlikely detectives, but they were insubstantial compared to Bingham. As Simms, Alphonso McAuley is little more than comic relief but he does exercise that relief unceasingly throughout the film. Scott Mechlowicz is wasted as Hester because he's a subtle character in a film that doesn't have a clue what subtlety means. To highlight that, they leave D L Hughley minding shop as they travel around Europe. He lost an arm to gangrene after a shark ate his wife and he turned to drugs, and both legs to a failed suicide attempt on a train track. Yet he gets a fight scene with Bingham! It's tough to even remember his bosses after that.

This is far from the only outrageous scene because writers Nick Ball and John Niven obviously wanted to make an impression with their first feature. Maybe they got bored with their mashup of National Lampoon's European Vacation with Snatch and decided to switch the latter out for Crank instead. This isn't even the most outrageous scene, that honour surely going to the one in which Bingham takes down Ryder, Cat's business partner in Luxembourg. It's a sort of response to the notorious ear scene in Reservoir Dogs, outdoing it on the violence front in every way but justifying it as a valid response to the use of profanity. Just imagine if Tarantino's cop was played by Joe Pesci and Michael Madsen was replaced by Mary Poppins. It really is that surreal. There are many such scenes of note too, so many that it's as much fun watching the reactions of those you're watching with as watching the movie itself. Maybe only The Room outdoes it on this front.

So every song of praise comes paired with a matching criticism. For every neat take on a scene in another movie, there's another unimaginatively stolen. Every inspiration is acknowledged but then discarded. I loved the little touches, such as the elevator muzak version of She's Not There at precisely the right moment, but the movie as a whole is so jarringly inconsistent that it feels like it was created by film fans with ADHD. I enjoyed some of the humour, though it was gleefully generic, rarely realistic and often over the top. I even enjoyed the plot, or at least the concept it kept vaguely alluding to, though it descended into cliché so often that identifying each instance could become a drinking game. Most characters are wasted even as they're gifted great scenes, just as dialogue transcends the characters who deliver it. I'm still not sure how this will settle in my mind. It's terrible, but I loved it. Now, do you need a moment?

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