Friday, 26 March 2010

Parting Shots (1998)

I am always very curious about movies that seem to fall through the cracks after receiving a certain amount of hoo-hah on their release. Like a shooting star they shine brightly for a wee period of time and then seem to disappear from one's consciousness. I had heard that this one, the last to date from British director Michael Winner, was particularly awful, but since he is something of a hate-object to many people nowadays, being currently best-known as a smug food critic with a string of ex-girlfriends and 'fiancees', I thought it might prove watchable. After all Winner made a good run of popular movies from "The Jokers" (1967) through "The Wicked Lady" remake in 1985, including the morally dubious Charles Bronson "Death Wish" series and one of my own favourites, "Hannibal Brooks" (1969). He was also able to call on a range of starry talent including Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, and Michael Caine (who is apparently still a friend).

So when I finally saw this listed as a premiere in the schedules of a terrestrial TV station last week, I grabbed the opportunity to view it and make my own assessment. In one of the favourite phrases of my late mother when studying the menu at a pricey restaurant, she would say "The turkey sounds good". Well take it from me, this particular turkey is a tasteless, embarrassing mess.

He was obviously able to call in a lot of favours and the cast list includes some very well-known late 1990s talent: John Cleese, Diana Rigg, Felicity Kendal, Oliver Reed, Bob Hoskins, Ben Kingsley, Joanna Lumley, and a host of familiar faces from television -- but most of these appear in bitty parts. The lead has been given to one Chris Rea (a musician with whom I am unfamiliar); as an actor he shouldn't give up his day job and comes across as a wooden, charisma-free zone. Perhaps we should consider this a vanity piece or perhaps he helped with the finance, but he just about kills the movie stone dead.

That in fact is what the film is about: having been told that he has incurable cancer and only six weeks to live, our "hero" sets out to murder all those people that he thinks have ruined his life. The "twist" of the story is however blatantly apparent to any half-sentient creature from square one. His scheming ex-wife (Rigg), doublecrossing ad-agency partner (Cleese), and Madoff-like financier (Hoskins) are among the early victims, followed by celebrity chef (Kingsley) -- a nod to Winner's current foodie obsessions. Black comedy, such as this is meant to be, requires tongues firmly wedged into the players' cheeks, but that is sadly, sadly lacking here. Only Reed in this late role of a high-class contract killer, whom Rea has hired to finish him off, brings any amusement to the proceedings. Both Rigg and Kendal are far too old for the parts they are playing and one would be hard-pushed to understand why anyone would fancy the hapless Rea in the first place. I guess many films deserve to be lost under the floorboards!

On the same subject, I'm in the middle of watching -- yes, I do take some breaks occasionally -- a Spike Lee Joint from about 2005 which has also done a similar disappearing act: "She Hate Me". Intended (I think) as a satiric jab at values gone wrong, it's about a man who loses his high-powered job, being set up as the fallguy for his colleagues' transgressions, and who earns a living as a bonking sperm-provider for horny and broody lesbians. Bring on the floorboards!
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