FEBRUARY 12, 2009
I’m curious what you guys would prefer - a well made film with a lame script, or a great script undone by bad acting/production value? The Lodger is definitely a case of the former - it looks great, it’s got a terrific cast, but man oh man is it by the numbers. Granted, it’s a remake of one of Hitchcock’s earliest films, but I’ve never seen that one, and I’m guessing it doesn’t share a whole lot in common with it anyway (since the film is modern in every conceivable way possible, right down to having the cop use Google to uncover key evidence), so I shouldn't have seen just about every plot development/twist coming from miles away.
I want to talk about the Google scene real quick, because it’s fucking hilarious. Apparently Google has refined its “I feel lucky” option, because the guy Googles things like “Whitechapel” (a killer in Los Angeles is copying Jack the Ripper’s murders - so the movie's a remake of Jack’s Back too) and gets the exact right article he needs. He even manages to get a direct hit on an article about Callaghan the housekeeper when he searches for “lodger”. Conversely, when I Googled “The Lodger”, this movie was the 3rd hit.
Back to the point though - the script is just painfully generic. Red herrings are easy to spot, and the cops go through every cliché in the book. Over the course of the film, lead cop Alfred Molina gets and bickers with a new partner, butts heads with his superiors, falls under suspicion himself, gets thrown off the case, and inadvertently makes a loved one a target of the killer. Had the fake Jack killed his old partner at the beginning of the film, I’m pretty sure he’d win a set of steak knives for his efforts.
The script also has some doozies that had me rolling. The best is when the cops uncover a footprint at a crime scene. Hope Davis’ character suspects the lodger of the murder, so she takes his boot and sizes it against the full size photo of the footprint in the paper! It must be a really slow news day if the LA Times can put a 14 inch full scale photo (of a fucking footprint no less) on the front page. People also frequently act suspiciously for no reason, particularly Donal Logue’s character. Logue is an actor in particular whose presence confounds me - his entire role consists of walking into a scene with Davis, saying something dickish, reminding her to take her pills, and then leaving again.
The movie also tosses in a lame double twist at the end that again, renders other stuff completely pointless. Sure, people who aren’t paying any goddamn attention at all might get their mind blown, but what about those of us who ARE focused (ish) on the movie? Shouldn’t we get some respect too? And since when does it rain in LA for like 3 days straight? At least have someone point out how strange it is, especially since it’s only there to allow the director to indulge himself with one of those generic “crane shot of the rain pouring down on a city street” moments.
Oh yeah, David Ondaatje is one of those directors who feels compelled to put a “wow!” shot in the movie every 5 minutes. He cribs a number from Hitchcock, obviously, but has a bunch of his “own” as well. Look for the longest Snorri-cam shot in history, lots of nonsensical ramped up timelapse sequences, etc. Nothing like constantly making the audience aware that they are watching a movie, especially in a movie so by the numbers that their focus is likely to be waning anyway.
At least the cast keeps it afloat. Shane West does fine with what he’s given (the generic rookie who tries too hard, though at least they do give him a surprising character trait: he’s gay!), and Philip Baker Hall is always a pleasure. Simon Baker as the Lodger is an inspired choice, and even though (again) the script gives him little to work with, he’s a perfect blend of charming and shady. Rachael Leigh Cook even has a few scenes as Molina’s daughter. Also, François Chau pops up as the coroner. You know him as Marvin Candle, the Dharma Initiative video star.
The DVD has a collection of worthless deleted scenes (most of it just scene bridges - i.e. people getting into a car to go somewhere) and a bunch of trailers. The only thing worth a look is the making of, as it packs in a ton of filmmaking info in 15 or 16 minutes and has some interesting observations from the design folks.
As a thriller it’s not very thrilling at all. The initial twist is pretty decent, but it’s undone by a 2nd, stupid twist that makes most of the movie not make any sense. A good cast and above-average technical merits save it from total mediocrity, but when you have a movie like Zodiac around, there’s really no point to one like this.
What say you?