Saturday, January 21, 2012

Faces in the Crowd

I have established a routine of reviewing the best and worst of the previous year just in time for the Oscars.  If they can wait until the end of February, why can't I, right?  That means that I am trying to fit a lot of 2011 releases in for review in January and February.  Hence Faces in the Crowd.  Normally, I wouldn't touch a Milla Jovovich movie with a ten foot pole, unless it involved killing zombies.  That's just a general rule that has served me well over the years.  Faces in the Crowd is what happens when you break the rules.
...and this is what happens when you break her concentration: blank stares

Here's the plot: Anna (Milla Jovovich) is living the good life --- she has friends, a handsome byofriend, and is a successful teacher with model-quality looks --- until she accidentally witnesses a serial killer in the act.  She tries to escape, and I suppose she does; she falls off a bridge, into a body of water, hitting her head on the way down.  That might scramble a lesser person's brains, but Anna's got quite the noggin and emerges with prosopagnosia.  That's essentially a form of brain damage that prevents a person from recognizing faces.  In practice, that means that Anna sees a new face whenever a person leaves the room; in practice, her boyfriend looks different every morning and every evening as he returns from work.  My immediate thought --- echoed by Anna's slutty friend --- is that she gets to be monogamous and still sleep with new people, but this isn't a lighthearted sex romp.  This is a drama, nay, a thriller, dammit!  So Anna has witnessed a serial killer at work and is the only surviving witness, but she couldn't ID the guy if he was standing right next to her.  That would only be mildly inconvenient, if it wasn't for the fact that the killer is stalking her at close range.

Wow.  Faces in the Crowd takes an interesting phenomenon and completely misses the mark.  The first problem I have with this movie is with Milla Jovovich.  She can't act.  Not surprised, not happy, not afraid, not disinterested, not mildly constipated.  If you cast Milla Jovovich in your movie and are expecting her to carry a dramatic role (as in, "not one where the acting is obscured by action FX") you damn well better make sure she is clothed appropriately.
An example of "appropriate"
Man, she is terrible here.  She plays a schoolteacher that regularly goes out drinking with her slutty wannabe Sex In the City friends, never seems to grade papers, and looks like this when she's stressed:
I'm surprised this movie's not titled Faces Acting Subtly.  The rest of the cast is better than Milla, but so was my preschool class performance of the Billy Goats Gruff (I was a troll and fussed over having green makeup on my cheeks, because makeup is for girls!  Yuck!).  Julian McMahon plays the cop tracking down the serial killer that magically seems immune to Anna's mental disability; she recognizes his face every time!  It's not that remarkable, though...his goatee is just that awful.
Not a Robin Hood remake
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag.  Due to the requirements of the story, most of the characters were played by multiple actors.  So, even if you love The Walking Dead's Sarah Wayne Callies, she's only actually in about ten percent of this movie.  Similarly, Valentina Vargas was not given much of a chance to shine as the super-slutty foreign friend, even though the character had Isabella Rosellini-in-Roger Dodger-potential.  As for David Atrakchi...let's just say that it's too bad he never got substituted for Demitri Martin in this movie.  (That is me subtly pointing out his lack of dramatic acting chops).  Oh, and Marianne Faithfull shows up to play a cynical therapist, if only to rasp at a new audience.

Faces in the Crowd isn't all bad, though.  It's pretty terrible, don't get me wrong, but there were some things I liked.  I liked the concept behind this movie.  Who do you trust when you can't trust your eyes?  I like that.  And writer/director Julien Magnat found an interesting way to manifest Anna's disability, by having different actors play the same part, with the original actor supplying the voice.  Sometimes, strangers would all share the same face.  That was all pretty cool.  It's too bad that the acting is wretched and the basic plot (the mystery) is hammy and predictable.
Don't protect her.  She needs to hear the truth.

What's worse than all that is how ridiculous the plot is.  First of all, I hated how easily the story got rid of Anna's existing boyfriend, who suddenly became a total prick when his girlfriend suffered brain damage.  Here is an attractive woman who is clearly trying her best to fake her way through life, despite a mental retardation, and he gets self-righteous?  Weak.  I mean, this is a guy who could totally berate and take out his anger on his girlfriend, just by changing his tie and using a silly voice, the very stuff of a Wayans Brothers comedy --- and he gives that up because she sees different faces when they have sex?  What planet is he from?  And then there is the cop played by McMahon, who explicitly denies Anna protective custody (despite her being his only witness) because it is a paperwork hassle.
"I'd take my hands out of my pockets, but, you tape"
The plot is so cheesy that Anna reads her horoscope out loud, ferchrissakes, and it always applies to her day!
Scorpio: "You will smoosh your face in despair..."
One of the worst things about Faces in the Crowd is how pointlessly long it is.  This isn't a long movie, mind you, but there is a point where it is obvious that the killer character is wearing exactly the same clothes as Anna's boyfriend, and the boyfriend sees the guy, and Anna's friend gets killed that night by someone wearing the exact same clothes as the boyfriend ---- and nobody thinks to ask the boyfriend what this doppelganger looks like!  I would have been satisfied if the boyfriend gave a mediocre description, but ignoring the fact that he saw the killer bugged the hell out of me.  All of that pales in comparison to the idiocy of Anna's character when she tried to go back to teaching young schoolchildren.  She went back to work without telling her boss about her condition and apparently walked into class without a game plan to handle not recognizing the faces of 30+ kids.  As a friend, sibling, nephew, and son of teachers, I have to call bullshit there.  For all the work teachers do off the clock, I simply cannot believe that an elementary school teacher wouldn't foresee the problem of not recognizing her students, especially when her boss references her as his "best" teacher.  Faces in the Crowd takes a decent premise and dumbs it down into a dull, poorly paced thriller that doesn't even deserve quotation marks around it.

The one good thing that resulted from me watching this movie was that it reminded me of Marianne Faithfull's 2002 album, which featured this song, written by Jarvis Cocker.  Sure, it's dirty and he covered it on his next solo album, but this is where I heard it first.

Marianne Faithfull - Sliding through life on charm by Superpatri

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