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EW review: 'Domino' lethally numb

Also: Satisfying 'Nine Lives,' 'Where the Truth Lies'

By Owen Gleiberman
Entertainment Weekly

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Keira Knightley plays Domino Harvey.

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(Entertainment Weekly) -- Poor little rich babe, scion of English movie-star royalty, AK-47-toting punkette bounty hunter: If Domino Harvey's life didn't already sound like a chicly garish girl-with-model- cheekbones-goes-slumming thriller, then a girl-with-model-cheekbones- goes-slumming thriller would have to be made to exploit it.

And now one has. "Domino," directed by Tony Scott, is a movie that wears its ultraviolence and fashionista grunge, its Oliver Stone-makes-a- Harley-Davidson-commercial visuals, and its fake-nervy aggression like a very ugly but expensive tattoo. The movie is trash shot to look like art imitating trash. It's the tale of a real person in only the most abstract, opportunistic way, since what Scott has done is to pin the scandal label of "true story" onto his most fractiously vapid action film since "Beverly Hills Cop II."

Designed as a blitzkrieg of fast, shuddery images saturated with glary fluorescent color (accent on the nausea green), like something out of the latest music video that's too mod for the dorm, "Domino" is a movie that's fatally hip and lethally numb. It features a synthetic update of Tarantino-flavored violence (a man's arm, branded with a safe combination, gets ripped from his torso); a plot so dense with ersatz Elmore Leonard convolutions that it manages to stay three steps ahead of the audience and four steps behind common sense; and a saintly hellion of a heroine -- a kamikaze to the glamour born, played by Keira Knightley with no emotion but an unvaried runway-model pout of bad attitude.

A framing device has tough agent Lucy Liu interrogating the captured Domino, who recalls the story, with far too much tedious narration, of how she became a Los Angeles bounty hunter and got wrapped up in a $10 million payoff. For reasons that are never remotely explained, Domino, the daughter of stage and screen legend Laurence Harvey (we see a brief clip of him in the 1962 "The Manchurian Candidate"), rebels against her role as prep-school princess by addicting herself to danger.

She connects with a band of hired reprobates and finds an alternate father figure in Ed, played by Mickey Rourke, who even in this late-wreckage career phase lends an undertone of sweet softness to his beefy street-zombie posturing. Domino proves her mettle by standing up, with no experience, to a roomful of criminals in a scene so far-fetched, it establishes the film's utter nose-thumbing view of plausibility. Yet since "Domino" is aimed at a generation hungry for a quick fix of empowerment fantasy, the scene's hyperbole is the whole point. This, the movie says, is the you of your dreams: the Suicide Girl as glam sociopath.

Now that "cool" has become an official corporate concept, used to sell everything from jeans to hair gel, it's worth asking: Is a movie that works as hard to be badass as "Domino" does a contradiction in terms? As a packaged sensory onslaught of girl-gunslinger nihilism, Scott's film would seem to have everything, yet taken simply as entertainment, it is dreadful: less cool than ice-cold, its violence too dissociated to inspire a decadent tremor of excitement. They should have called it "Natural Born Ciphers."

EW Grade: D

'Where the Truth Lies'

Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman

As twisty and sophisticated as they were, a lot of the old film noirs had a barely disguised salacious undertow. The women (Lana, Rita, Barbara) were high priestesses of nasty pleasure, and the films coasted, in essence, on our desire to see their carnality laid bare. "Where the Truth Lies," Atom Egoyan's sexy, tantalizing, and befuddling noir murder mystery, works in a similar fashion.

Cutting between two very different eras and moods, the jaunty submerged darkness of 1957 and the sunlit jadedness of 1972, Egoyan, adapting a novel by Rupert Holmes, unwraps the tale of a team of comedy legends, Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth), who are clearly meant to be a fictionalized takeoff on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

In the '50s, the two are riding high, and Egoyan stages their nightclub and telethon appearances, as well as their after-hours hanky-panky in the company of groupies and mobsters, with a juicy inside-showbiz knowingness. But then the body of a woman, apparently drowned, is discovered in their hotel bathtub, and though neither man is charged with a crime, their careers crash to a halt.

Cut to the early '70s, when Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman), an aspiring journalist, pursues each of them to uncover the heart of their hidden scandal. She's far from objective: As a girl, she appeared on their polio telethon, and her relationship to both men, especially Kevin Bacon's rakish Lanny, is that of a former Lolita ardently pursuing her spiritual Humbert. Lohman, who has peachy skin and the loveliest of overbites, acts with the breathy enthusiasm of a very cagey starlet, and the fact that it's genuinely hard to tell whether she's a slightly amateurish ingenue or a good actress playing innocent is intrinsic to the movie's appeal.

For much of "Where the Truth Lies," the prospect of Karen's defilement lingers, and Egoyan, who has made the destructive attraction of older men to younger girls the driving obsession of his work, knows how to exploit our voyeurism. A mood of lush romantic decadence -- sleaze made enigmatic -- hovers over "Where the Truth Lies," which has a score that works so hard to evoke Vertigo that it may leave you dizzy. I swooned, at times, though I would have done so more freely if Egoyan, the mad academic formalist, tinkering with structure and ''unreliable narrators,'' didn't have a way of tripping up his own spell.

The movie's voyeurism carries over to the '50s scenes, which, if anything, are even more lubricious. Lanny and Vince's dance of ego and intimacy is at the heart of "Where the Truth Lies." Bacon plays Lanny with a rotting wolfish charm, and he and Firth, with his flips of politeness and rage, make the film's big secret feel right. That the crucial revelation scene got the film threatened with the taint of NC-17 (it's now unrated) only proves that sin truly is in the eye of the beholder.

EW Grade: B+

'Nine Lives'

Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum

In my favorite among the nonet of 10-minute scenes of women in crisis that make up the deeply satisfying feminine maypole dance billed, with mathematical precision, as "Nine Lives," Robin Wright Penn plays a married woman, ripely pregnant, who runs into an old lover at a supermarket. The air between them is electric with unresolved feelings, and the woman truly doesn't know which way to turn: She tries this aisle and that to find her emotional way, while the camera follows her agitated indecision in one unbroken take.

Writer-director Rodrigo Garca ("Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her") trained as a cameraman, and his decision to present each segment in a single take enhances the be-here-now immediacy of every scene: Although each character holds the spotlight only briefly, she arrives as if with a life already in progress, and it's easy to believe that she'll keep busy even after the credits roll.

What could have been a parlor game becomes a surprisingly rich sketchbook, boosted by the work of fine actors invigorated by the opportunity to create character without hearing ''Cut!'' Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Amy Brenneman, and Lisa Gay Hamilton join the troupe, and Sissy Spacek is especially affecting as a middle-aged woman on the verge of adultery. This movie is, by the way, not just an ovarian jungle: The equally strong male cast includes Stephen Dillane, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane and Aidan Quinn.

EW Grade: A-

'Going Shopping'

Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman

There are many things to be said -- and a lot of critics have -- to disparage the films of Henry Jaglom, with their indulgent klatches of talk, their L.A. neurotics chewing the cud of their own problems. Yet let's give Jaglom his due. In the '90s, when he began to turn his low-budget spotlight on the wishes and woes of contemporary women, pouring their dilemmas into encounter-group comedies like "Eating" (1990) and "Babyfever" (1994), he anticipated the exuberant socio-comic confusions of "Sex and the City."

"Going Shopping," Jaglom's latest, is an agreeable ramble, a quasi-doc soap-opera meditation on clothes and the holy pursuit of them. Victoria Foyt, who co-wrote the film, stars as Holly, owner of a vintage boutique she's trying to dig out from under a pile of debt. Foyt, who has the winsome sculpted beauty of a middle-aged pixie, plays all of Holly's anxieties -- single mom, lone entrepreneur -- without shortchanging her joie de vivre. In the past, Jaglom has overstated feminine self-doubt, turning it into self-flagellation, but "Going Shopping" is sharp and funny about all the things that shopping can mean to the women who live to do it, and even to those who don't.

EW Grade: B

'The Gospel'

Reviewed by Scott Brown

The raison d'etre of a movie like "The Gospel" is the hero's prostration before God ... and how do you grade that? Like art or porn, you know it when you see it, you dig it or you don't. But it's the earthly drama preceding the evangelical money shot that distinguishes this near-musical about a newly minted R&B star (Boris Kodjoe) drawn back into his estranged father's Atlanta ministry. It's a rich portrait of a church in transition, and while the climactic come-to-Jesus is never in doubt, "The Wire"'s lupine Idris Elba, as the hungry successor to the ailing pastor, threatens to turn this into a complex picture, even as "The Gospel" falls predictably to its knees with a satisfying thud.

EW Grade: B-

'Forty Shades of Blue'

Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum

In the visually striking, terribly lonely character study "Forty Shades of Blue," Laura (Dina Korzun) is a young Russian woman too accustomed to living with little to ask, ''Is that all there is?'' -- especially when suddenly showered with muchness. As he did in his distinctive 1997 debut feature, "The Delta," director Ira Sachs moves to the rhythms of his native Memphis, teasing emotional resonance out of geography. (The film won the top prize this year at Sundance.) Rip Torn blazes as Laura's lover, Alan, a famous, much-older music producer who is also the father of her little boy but pointedly not her husband (he still lunges at wine, other women, and song). It takes the arrival of Alan's estranged adult son (Darren Burrows) to rattle the disassociated practicality with which Laura navigates her sad blue heaven.

EW Grade: B+


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