Wednesday, October 22, 1997

The End of Violence

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 1997 at 12:00 AM

Has a European ever made a good film about California? If so, this isn't it. Wim Wenders, long an Ameriphile, has taken it upon himself to tell us all about what makes the Golden State tick at the end of the millennium. The press kit offers the helpful suggestion that since Wenders made his previous film with Michelangelo Antonioni, we should be all hot and bothered for this, his homage to the maestro's masterpiece Blow-Up.

But didn't Antonioni himself also come to size up the California of his day and end up making a pretentious mess called Zabriskie Point? And that, it would seem, is a far better point of departure for assessing this particular pretentious mess.

Mike Max (Bill Pullman) is a highly successful producer of violent movies. He lives a lush life in Malibu with his self-involved wife, Paige (Andie MacDowell), whom he neglects in favor of various communication devices. One day he receives a large e-mail file from an anonymous source who turns out to be Ray (Gabriel Byrne), a surveillance specialist working on a top-secret project to end violence in El Lay. Ray's leak is discovered and a hit squad is dispatched to retire Mike from show business permanently. Unfortunately, the botched hit is captured by Ray's cameras and Ray sets out to discover what really happened, while Mike reassesses his priorities in the company of a Mexican family of gardeners.

Wenders' themes appear to be the randomness of connections and social dysfunction born of mediated images. He may be aiming for Blow-Up, but instead produces a low-octane blend of Short Cuts with Red. He wastes some very good acting talent by having everyone carry on as narcotized zombies while mouthing stale, angst-ridden dialogue. Wenders wants so much to capture the essence of his themes that, in his earnestness he ends up unintentionally parodying them and himself.

Ry Cooder, last heard with Wenders on Paris, Texas, offers one of his trademark loose and twangy sound tracks, about the only thing bearable for the two hours the film takes to make a fool of itself. But Cooder's score is just another cliché in a cavalcade of Americana clichés seen through the rose-colored granny glasses of a European wanker long out of energy or ideas.

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