Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jake Goldberger's DON MC KAY gives work to a bunch of good actors -- but little else

Must Academy Award-nominated performers such as Thomas Haden Church sign on to executive-produce and star in a fourth-rate fumble like DON MC KAY in order to come up with a decent role? If so, we're all -- actors, audiences, moviemakers -- in bigger trouble than I imagined. This sorry excuse for a comedy/thriller is plain woeful -- a shaggy dog story that goes on and on until you discover that you'd figured it out early on but decided -- no, it couldn't be that simple-minded and ridiculous. It could and it is.

You will have to not simply suspend your disbelief but knock it senseless and then bury it twice to get through this movie with your brain still alert. What could first-time filmmaker Jake Goldberger (shown at left) have been thinking?  According to the press kit, he had been inspired by the Cohen Bros' Blood Simple when he sat down to write his script.  Yet his plot is so far-fetched and full of meaningless twists and turns that -- after only a couple of these -- his title character, played by Mr. Church, should walk away the first chance he gets. But no, he stays and plays. And when, toward the final moments we learn the reason for this, McKay's three-word answer is even more difficult to accept. 

As Goldberger's reversals and "surprises" (not to mention the several corpses) pile up during the finale, they smack, not of fun, thrills or shocks but rather of desperation. Should you plan to meet Don McKay, I shan't ruin anything for you, story or spoiler-wise. (The movie itself will take care of that.) Instead let's look at some of the riches gone to waste.  In addition to Church (above, right), who was so good in Sideways, Spanglish and Idiocracy, we have Elisabeth Shue (above, left, and at bottom) and Melissa Leo (below), both Oscar nominees in search of decent roles (Ms Leo has done better on this score than has Ms Shue).

The supporting cast is led by the always up-to-snuff James Rebhorn and there are terrific turns from Pruit Tayor Vince, Keith David and particularly M. Emmet Walsh, shown below, as an ubiquitous cabbie.  You could not ask for a better ensemble, and indeed, each member does everything possible to bring the movie home. To little avail.  The blame, and I don't like dumping on first-time filmmakers, must be laid at the feet of Mr. Goldberger, less I think for his directing -- which is rather staid and by-the-numbers but serviceable -- than for his writing.

This silly story and script was his baby and it does not for a moment hold water as a thriller, comedy, film noir, romance, character study  -- or any possible mash-up of the above genres.  We've got to care a bit about about the characters on view for a movie to engage us on a romantic/comedic level, and we've got to believe it, at least somewhat, for it to kick in on the mystery/thriller level.  None of this happens with Don McKay.  Even Mr. Church's title character fails finally to engage: Is he maybe "simple," we begin to wonder?

I'll hope to see something again soon from Mr. Goldberger, toward which I will be better disposed. Meanwhile, Don McKay opens Friday, April 2, in three major areas: Boston (it was filmed in Massachusetts), Los Angeles and New York City.  Click here for cities, theaters and ticket purchases.

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