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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

    £15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

    Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

    £11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

    £15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most