Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Director Report Card: Dario Argento (2009)

18. Giallo

With modern day Argento, you’ve really got to leash your expectations. When you’re expecting so little, a complete mediocrity like “Giallo” almost comes off as a success. Despite the title, the film plays less like a homage to the films Argento made in the seventies and more like a standard police procedural. There’s no black glove killers, POV shots, politically motivated plot lines, or an overabundance of style to be seen. It’s instead a tepid cop chases serial killer story.

The plot is standard issue: Giallo, a serial killer so named because of his jaundiced skin, is stalking Malin, abducting girls in his taxi, torturing them for several days, before dumping the bodies. A cop with a dark past is on the case and is soon joined in his efforts by the sister of Giallo’s latest victim. The story unfolds with little suspense, generally shuffling from one plot point to the next with no energy. The killer is never given any motivation or introspection beyond the fact that he jerks it to violent images and was picked on as a child because of his skin condition.

What happened to Adrian Brody? After years of respectable character work, he wins an Oscar for “The Pianist” and has since mostly slummed it in direct-to-video work. Here, for no specifically defined reason, the actor plays both the cop on the case and the serial killer he’s chasing. Brody goes under an anagramed pseudonym, “Byron Diedra,” as the killer and is under heavy make-up. However, the make-up, which consists of a fake nose, chin, and some really bad false teeth, is far from convincing. It doesn’t help that the movie focuses on Brody’s very distinctive eyes. It’s obvious right from the beginning that the same actor is playing both roles.

And why? At first, especially since the movie goes to some measure to disguise that it’s Brody as Giallo, I was wondering if they weren’t building towards some sort of twist. Are the killer and the cop REALLY THE SAME PERSON?!! After it became obvious they aren’t during a brief chase scene, I was wondering if maybe they we’re twin brothers or something? But, nope, there’s no plot justification for the decision. Maybe the movie’s making some sort of belabored, trite point about how killer and cop share the same sort of instinct, especially since the detective has some blood on his own hands. It’s a curious move and, sadly, the most interesting thing about an otherwise drab affair.

Brody’s performance as Inspector Avolfi isn’t bad. There’s not a lot of substance there but he does have some swagger and style to the role. “Byron Diedra” garbles his lines through a bad Italian accent and mostly practices uninspired sick creep clichés. That guy has got no future in the industry! Robert Miano as Brody’s superior does a lot with a few glances but his part is severely underwritten. Neither of the actresses playing the sisters do anything wrong but neither are interesting or exciting. There’s hints at a romance between Brody and the sister but it never amounts to anything.

And that’s pretty much the phrase of the day with “Giallo.” In the very first few shots, when Argento is panning around opera houses and model walkways, I thought for a minute there might actually be some of that old style here. Nope. Things settle down into boring normalcy before long. The only real stylistic decision I notice here is that the flashbacks, of which there are many, have a yellow tint to them. Those flashbacks are actually the best shots in the movie, since they allow Dario to indulge his interest in childhood and voyeurism. (And, hey, good job casting agent guy for finding a young kid with an appropriately Brody-sized nose.)

Despite the plot synopsis sounding like this might be Argento’s take on torture-horror, there’s actually very little gore in the movie. We get a lot of blades being waved around threateningly. We see lots of cuts and slashes on girls’ faces but don’t see much of the actual cutting. Once, a girl gets a hammer to the head and while it’s initially shocking, soon it devolves into the same old thing Argento does nowadays. The blood looks fake, the wound looks latex-y, and the camera lingers on its fakeness for too long. The only deaths that have any jazz to them are, again, those in the flashbacks. And those just aren’t really the same thing.

Keeping with the television police procedural feel, the story wraps up in a neat little package, with the killer disposed off conveniently and the only person Brody has anything resembling a normal relationship with walking out of his life. But as the credits roll, we see that one plot point has intentionally been left unresolved. While I suspect there was a reason for that, it feels less like a sequel set-up or an artistic choice… And more like a cliffhanger that will be resolved on next week's episode!

The producers were apparently real bastards. They took the film away from its director, recut it without his involvement, and didn’t even pay Adrian Brody what they promised him. Even if Dario got final cut on “Giallo,” I can’t imagine it being much better. As I’ve said over and over in this review, the film isn’t a disaster. It’s certainly not a fiasco on the level of “Phantom of the Opera” or “Mother of Tears.” But there’s absolutely nothing daring or exciting about it. It’s a truly mediocre movie and that I’m saying this about a Dario Argento film is very disheartening. [Grade: C]

How's that for a journey into diminished returns? Argento's next project, currently awaiting release, is Dracula 3D. As the spoiler-filled, NSFW teaser trailer shows, it appears to shaping up to be another "Phantom of the Opera"-level fiasco. Honestly, considering how "Giallo" turned out, that's almost preferable. Yeah, the movie will be awful, but it will also be insane and hilarious, which is preferable to boring. All the modern Argento elements are present and accounted for: Obvious CGI, creepy Asia nudity, over-the-top gore, and stilted performances. But I will see it, because I'm a completest, a masochist, and because I want to see the Rutger-Hauer-plays-alot-of-vampires cycle come full circle, with his no doubt sleepy take on Van Helsing.

Like most of the seventies horror auteurs, Argento's modern stuff just doesn't make the cut. So it goes. His seventies and eighties output is still amazing. That's it for Argento Month here at Film Thoughts. Was it as good for you as it was for me? MORE STUFF COMING SOON! (Probably.)

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