Pulp diction, Denver style

FILM

Imitation is the sincerest form of larceny, and there can't be much doubt whose joint the makers of Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead (18) have been casing. Count off the components: the criminal rounding up an ill-assorted team of thugs for a job which goes gorily awry; the intense talkiness, in what passes for baroque underworld argot; the beatings, stabbings, tortures, humiliations and other forms of exquisite nastiness; Steve Buscemi as a hit man, Christo-pher Walken as a charismatic older guy. Short of calling the movie Reservoir Fiction, there's not a lot more they could have done to parade their allegiances, but if the modus operandi is all too familiar, they've still managed to put their own stamp on the operation. It's a slick piece of work.

Studied brutality aside, the most striking thing about this first feature directed by Gary Fleder is its diction. Scott Rosenberg's clever screenplay teems with so much (presumably) invented criminal jargon that subtitles would often be handy: his lexicon includes such terms and phrases as "Buckwheats" (an order to assassinate in the most painful way), "Give it a name" ("I quite agree, old chap"), "Mamma-Rammer" ("unpleasant cove") and many others unfit for publication in these pages. It's as if Rosenberg had noticed everyone was calling Tarentino's brand of violence "Jacobean", and recalled that the other thing Jacobean tragedy had going for it was lush, highly contrived language. Whatever his motive, the neologisms help make Denver much more droll than it might sound in synopsis.

By comparison with all the verbal high jinks, its plot is relatively straightforward. A reformed gangster with a soft streak, known as Jimmy the Saint (Andy Garcia), who runs a service which allows the dying to videotape their words of wisdom for their loved ones, is called in by his old boss The Man With The Plan (Christopher Walken) - a spooky, wild- haired paraplegic monster straight out of Charles Addams - for one last job: "It's just an action - not a piece of work" (translation: "no deaths involved"). Jimmy is simply to put the frighteners on a young orthodontist who is wooing the ex-girlfriend of The Man's dim-bulb son.

With understandable misgivings, Jimmy agrees, and rounds up some old mates: Franchise (William Forsythe), Pieces (Christopher Lloyd), Easy Wind (Bill Nunn) and Critical Bill (Treat Williams, bullet-headed and hugely funny), so-called not because he's read F R Leavis but because people he meets tend to end up on the critical list. He works in a funeral parlour, and when we first meet him, he's thumping away at a punch-bag which proves to be a corpse. Even saintly Jimmy ought to rumble that Critical Bill may not be that reliable, but he goes ahead, and their little action turns into a very messy piece of work. The Man, peeved, issues Buckwheats, setting the deadly Mr Shhh (Buscemi) on their tails; Jimmy, meanwhile, has fallen in love with a ski instructor (Gabrielle Anwar).

Life turns ugly for all concerned, so ugly that you might guess that Rosenberg started out by goosing himself with the nastiest things he could imagine and then contrived a plot to string them together. If you pause for a second to examine the state of your ethics, you may find yourself exasperated or dismayed; the trick of the film is to keep you sniggering so steadily that it's hard to make that effort, and the momentum only falters when it makes the mistake of shifting into romantic-pathetic mode, and tries to shape Jimmy into a real character. (The more plausible Garcia makes him - and he's as humane a presence as usual - the more cartoon- like the other characters seem). Denver is undeniably a dazzling calling- card for its writer and director, and it's a great ride, but when you hear goons repeatedly saying "Give it a name", one which comes to mind is "hollow".

The title of Copycat (18), directed by Jon Amiel, offers so large and juicy a hostage to fortune that it almost seems churlish to seize on it. Almost. However, when presented with a movie about a serial killer whose gimmick is to follow the MO of famous real-life SKs from the Boston Strangler to Ted Bundy, and which is itself largely a retread of The Silence of the Lambs (petite female cop with Dixie accent teams up with shut-in shrink to track down multiple murderer), pity does not come readily. Such originality as there is stems from the heroes being female: Holly Hunter as the policewoman, Sigourney Weaver as a psychologist specialising in serial killers, who is rendered agoraphobic after an egregiously sleazy example (Harry Connick Jr) nearly gets her. The action is par for the course: not boring enough to make you fidget, not gripping enough to prevent you wondering why the glass of brandy Sigourney Weaver keeps slugging from is always full. Incidentally, the press kit asks reviewers not to give away the surprise ending; a baffling request, since it doesn't appear to have one.

Merciful brevity is the only decent response to Mary Reilly (15), a hideous and baffling crime against the talents of almost all involved, including the director Stephen Frears and the screenwriter Christopher Hampton. This version of Jekyll and Hyde as seen by the housemaid (a rum idea in itself, when you think how much scholars have gone on about the importance of Stevenson's tale being virtually woman-free) loses the battle the second Mary (Julia Roberts) first opens her mouth and speaks in that pure Irish brogue you only hear in Nashville, Tennessee. Worse follows. Ms Roberts's performance consists largely of tilting her head forward, bugging out her eyes and rolling them from side to side as if imitating a startled faun; John Malkovich's American-speaking Jekyll and Hyde look so similar that only an advanced opium addict would be fooled; and that genius George Cole, as the Head Butler, is not allowed to be funny. It is all very dull, and very sad.

Iain Softley's Hackers (12), a comedy-adventure aimed at children who wear baggy trousers and reversed headgear, concerns implausibly clean- living teenage computer buffs in New York who stumble across a dastardly conspiracy. It sets itself the tricky task of making tapping a keyboard look like a cross between flying a starship, staging a Ninja attack and taking strong drugs, and does so with swirling equations, time-lapse photography and digitally-generated visions of cyberspace, all driven along by the big beat today's pop kids really dig, daddy-o. Harmless enough fun, although at least one of the heroes, Cereal Killer (Matthew Lillard), is so irritating that one grows to crave his violent demise.

Another young person's film, Barb Wire, has been given a 15 certificate, which must be a terrible blow for a project whose ideal target audience is 12 years old, male and under-achieving. If you fall into this demographic, here is all you need to know. In the opening credits, Pamela Anderson Lee, almost wearing a skin-tight dress, does a back-lit, bump-and-grind dance to the Gun version of "Word Up" while being sprayed by jets of water; if you look carefully, you may catch a flash of nipple. You never see her fully naked, and there are no proper sex scenes. It is set in the future, so people wear black leather and divide their time between noisy nightclubs and scrap-metal yards. There is a lot of shooting and a thing with a crane, and Pamela rides a motorbike. Have a nice puberty, and come back when you have seen an old film your grandparents like called Casablanca, which is shamelessly ripped off in the final scene.

Parents and grandparents, your treat of the week is another Hitchcock re-release: Rebecca (PG). Watching it again reminds you why this Cinderella- meets-Bluebeard high-class tosh is such juicy meat for excitable academics (the BFI is publishing something called The Rebecca Project on CD-Rom to accompany the release). But it also surprises you with just how how much sly comedy Hitchcock slips in. It's not as exhilarating or satisfying as some of the thrillers, and Olivier looks a bit awkward at times (the film belongs to the sublime Joan Fontaine) but, to borrow a title, it's rich and strange.

Cinema details: see Going Out, page 14

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz