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Robert Hull [Film Festival 04.26.12] comedy thriller crime

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Elmore Leonard’s novels are fuelled by dialogue. Punchy, quick-witted words fired off in a way to give you the lowdown on character AND drive you through the story. But film versions? Now that’s a tricky one. For every Out of Sight, Get Shorty, and Rum Punch (filmed as Jackie Brown) there’s a Be Cool, Killshot, and Stick … and the list of negatives outweighs the positives.

Fortunately, Freaky Deaky is no crime against filmmaking. It’s a good, solid, fun movie with a handful of standout performances and, having read the book, I can confirm it stays faithful to Elmore’s words and wisdom.

It’s the kind of film that looks like it was a blast to make, and director Charles Matthau, cinematographer John J Connor and the editing team appear to be a playful bunch. The film has chapter headings, just like a book, and these then scroll back to reveal the scene. There’s some nice ultra low-angle shots and clever tracking sequences, and a throwaway scene in a phone box, through which you can see a cinema promoting a screening of The Front Page, a 1974 film starring Walter Matthau (the director’s dad).

The reason for the 1974 film reference? Well, Freaky Deaky is set In Detroit in 1974, where the collars are wide, the trousers are flared, and as the gumshoe-loving soundtrack will attest, there’s either a saxophone player on every fire escape or a guy with a guitar and a wah-wah pedal on the street corner.

Writing the short version of an Elmore Leonard film/novel is like nailing jello to the wall. But this might help set you on the right lines … Bomb Squad cop gets reassigned to Sex Crimes Unit, meets hot actress who claims she’s been assaulted by wealthy-powerful freaky guy, whose assistant is a cool, scheming, devious piece of work. Throw in a couple of radicals – one a hot temptress and one an acid casualty/stunt co-coordinator – keen to take revenge on the same freaky guy and his brother, and finish it off with the fact that everyone here seems very at home with explosives and guns.

Billy Burke is suitably disheveled as Chris Mankowski, the cop trying to do the right thing, but his thunder is stolen by Michael Jai White as Donelle Lewis, the schemer who’s just trying to get his hands on the big money. Jai White’s performance is comedy gold, full of ticks and twitches, and world-weary exasperation. Freaky Deaky’s women are hot, as befits femme fatales and damsels in distress. Breanne Racano (Robin Abbot) is all sexy looks and feline charm, while Sabina Gadecki (Greta Wyatt) is wide-eyed puppy-dog innocence and heart-melting smiles.

The film’s two biggest stars, Christian Slater and Glover, get the kooky, crazy-guy roles and both are good value for it, particularly Glover whose Woody Ricks is played like a man always answering the question you asked four questions before – and then answering the question you know you hadn’t asked.

Occasionally, Freaky Deaky steers too close to pastiche: a tracking shot along a police department corridor could almost have come from Airplane! and this distracts you from the action, and the film’s own sense of humor. And sometimes it’s just not quite fast-paced enough or as funny as it thinks it is. However, there’s so much to enjoy and so many clever touches to admire that it’s almost certain to leave you with a smile playing around your lips or a wiseass putdown on your mind.

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CTYankee (9 years ago) Reply

Was it worth the $22,000,000 invested in the production?

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