The Minus Man

Oct 20, 1999 at 12:00 am

The most interesting thing about director Hampton Fancher’s film The Minus Man is the title. But the interest is fleeting, as is the strangeness of its main character, Vann Siegert (Owen Wilson), the all-American nice-guy psycho who drifts in and out of small towns and sleepy suburbs "subtracting" more-or-less deserving members of the community.

The other players — garden variety manic-depressive personalities — stroll through the set like six characters in search of an absurdist script whose point is kept from them like some big secret. Thus, the dialogue lines exchanged matter-of-factly between the people Vann meets (masochistic husbands, suicidal wives, worn-out postal clerks and their dysfunctional daughters) or those who live in his imagination (a surreal detective duo) slow down even more an already halting film.

In its desperate attempt to explain as little as possible ("Vann is nothing," Fancher says; "he is the man who fell to Earth"), the film becomes a reflection of its own nothingness, a bland cross between The Young Poisoner’s Handbook (minus the tension) and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (minus the violence). The fact that The Minus Man relies entirely on Wilson’s empty character to make a few simple points — that monsters have a human face, that small towns are not always peaceful, that the twilight zone is but an extension of reality — is not a plus either.

Like his psycho-character, Fancher (who wrote and produced Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner) plays a dangerous game of subtraction with his first film: Lynch without the darkness, the absurdists without the menace. In the last scene, The Minus Man catches up with its lost tempo — too late, though, for anyone to care. Maybe Fancher shouldn’t have waited so long or tried so hard.

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