Saturday, June 20, 2009


Every film the Weinstein brothers finance these days seems to reflect more on their downward spiral than it does the quality of the script in question. As tyrannical as they may be, you can't help but feel sorry for the producers: after all, they were as much responsible for the mid-'90s independent film explosion as Quentin Tarantino, and they had a knack for picking winning scripts and launching unknowns (Quentin, Kevin Smith, etc.). Yet their commercialization and absorption of the indie scene corrupted the very foundation of the movement, to the point that now movies financed by Hollwyood qualify for Spirit Awards so long as the film cost less than $5 million to make.

Perhaps that's why the Weinsteins' fortunes changed so drastically: by draining the indie pool of its top talent, all they could do was sit on their thrones as their empire collapsed around them. Recent projects have suffered from inexcusably bad promotion (Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Grindhouse) and push-backs (The Road, Fanboys), and the once-indefatigable siblings seem to be slipping ever closer to bankruptcy.

Killshot, thoroughly unmemorable as it is, will live on as the melting pot of all the Weinsteins' flaws, and proof of their sad decline. Originally slated for a March 2006 release, Killshot met with some terrible reaction at test screenings, so they delayed it. A planned straight-to-DVD release was likewise scrapped. Finally, after The Wrestler put Mickey Rourke back on the map, the brothers at last settled on a theatrical release in early January. Yet for all the press Rourke was getting, the Weinsteins did nothing to capitalize on the star's success, nor did they even give Killshot a wide release. So, at last, it hit a handful of screens in Arizona, and all those people clamoring to get an extra taste of Rourke had to wait until a few weeks ago for a bare-bones DVD to hit shelves with as little fanfare as it did the big screen.

Rourke plays Armand Degas, a hitman with some Native American lineage who calls himself "Blackbird." He's that familiar type of aged professional, the one who's had enough but needs to take on one last job to give him the cash to retire. Nothing ever goes wrong on his watch, but, of course, someone sees him on this final job and manages to escape to safety. The witness, Carmen Colson (Diane Lane), goes to the police and is promptly placed in the Witness Protection Program with her husband Wayne (Thomas Jane). Now, Degas must tie up the loose end if he wants to leave this life behind him.

The clichés keep a-comin' when Blackbird takes a young robber under his wing; Richie (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is a loud-mouthed, incompetent braggart with borderline psychosis. He sells Degas on a plan to take a real estate agent for a big haul, only for the seasoned killer to discover that the agent in question is the husband of the woman he's hunting.

While it's all been done before, this film had promise: Elmore Leonard's work is acclaimed for its realism and dialogue, and several of his books later became fun, witty and involving films (from Get Shorty to Rum Punch, which Tarantino loosely adapted into Jackie Brown). But Killshot is in the hands of art house director John Madden (of Shakespeare in Love fame) and writer Hossein Amini, who promptly suck all of the life out of the source material. One of Leonard's writing tips is, "If it looks like writing, I rewrite it." Madden and Amini should have taken this maxim to heart, as every single moment is so coldly constructed that its thriller moments fail to excite, while its character moments simply meander.

There is one bright spot in all of this, and it is, naturally, Mickey Rourke. He adds that level of broken-down, hard-earned wisdom that informs most of his contemporary roles, and he still commands that magnetism he wielded back when he looked like the next James Dean. Sadly, neither he nor anyone else has any chemistry with the other actors: Levitt is so good at portraying an annoying prig that you just want to fast-forward when he's on-screen, and that kills his scenes with both Rourke and Richie's Elvis-obsessed girlfriend, played by Rosario Dawson. Lane holds her own, but Jane weighs down the scenes between the couple, and she fails to act the believable victim when Richie and Blackbird find her.

Supposedly the abysmal test screenings, which cited the film as too muddled and confusing, greatly cut down the length, eliminating an entire subplot about a character played by Johnny Knoxville. But even at its trimmed 84-minute length, Killshot is all over the place, and it never finds a note it can play realistically. Rourke fans are no doubt used to wading through some downright interminable dross to see the man in action, and this is far from the bottom of the barrel of his career. I advise those fans to give Killshot a go, but that is the only reason to watch this otherwise slow-paced, aimless thriller.

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