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Thursday, December 8, 2011

CATCH .44 -- DVD review by porfle

Ever since PULP FICTION came out, various talky, quirky crime flicks have been described as Tarantino rip-offs.  Or, more generously put, "Tarantino-esque."  Despite all the bad things I've heard about it, I feel generous toward the talky, quirky--and fairly entertaining--crime flick CATCH .44 (2011) so I'll use the latter term.  Besides, people were making movies sorta like this before QT came along, but there just wasn't as convenient a way of describing them.

Not surprisingly, the movie takes the timeline of its not-all-that-complicated story and reshuffles it all over the place just for fun.  Most of the action occurs in an out-of-the-way Louisiana diner at 3:00 a.m., where three girls--Tes (Malik Akerman, WATCHMEN), Dawn (Deborah Ann Woll), and Kara (Nikki Reed, CHAIN LETTER, TWILIGHT)--are on an assignment for local drug kingpin Mel (Bruce Willis) and waiting for something to happen.  When it does, people start getting blown away, including one of the girls. 

We'll keep returning to the diner, with intermittent flashbacks bringing us up to speed a little at a time (a la RESERVOIR DOGS), until everything and everyone comes together at the end.  Meanwhile, we rewind to the dead girl and her two cohorts getting stopped by this really weird highway cop.  Only he isn't really a cop, because we just saw him shoot the real cop in the head during a routine pull-over.  Ronny (Forest Whitaker in another interesting performance) is a scary and enigmatic guy whose intentions are as yet unknown, but we're pretty sure he's going to end up at that diner, too.

Writer-director Aaron Harvey manages to keep things zipping along even when he's imitating Tarantino's chatty dialogue style with long, talky scenes that have their own modest rewards while never quite bagging the elusive Royale With Cheese.  A three-way Mexican standoff inside the diner (also a la RESERVOIR DOGS) after the initial shootout is nicely handled, prolonging the tension with various revelations and teasing us as to what certain characters' motivations are.  Whitaker is especially good here, with Shea Whigham doing a nice turn as a twitchy fry cook with a pump shotgun.  (Lovable oddball Brad Dourif also shows up for a couple of scenes as, of all things, a cop.)

Harvey's directorial style is a pleasing amalgam of lesser you-know-who mixed with a little Robert Rodriguez, making CATCH .44 easy to look at.  It amazed me to discover that Harvey's only other directing credit is the absolutely wretched 2007 slasher flick THE EVIL WOODS, which is without question one of the worst pieces of dreck ever made.  The difference between the two films is stunning--if nothing else, Harvey deserves some kind of an award for "most improved filmmaker."

Lurking in the background, getting talked about a lot, and popping into view for a few key scenes is Bruce Willis' "Mel" character.  The PULP FICTION co-star lends his formidable presence to the film without really breaking a sweat, but by now just being Bruce Willis is enough to elevate a small film such as this to another level.  We see him being a rich, cool drug lord manipulating his unsuspecting employees (such as Tes, Dawn, and Kara) like pawns, and finally emerging for a long, talky final scene with Whitaker that manages a faint hint of the Bill and Beatrix exchange at the end of KILL BILL VOL. 2.  Barely a whiff of that Royale With Cheese, though. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  A long, talky commentary track with Harvey and editor Richard Byard is the sole extra.

CATCH .44 doles out tantalizing scraps of story to us until the pieces fall into place, and once that's done, the final scene plays out in a way that resolves all the pent-up suspense in rather predictable ways.  There's no ironic twist or "gotcha" to fully justify so much story fiddling, and we realize that it was all done just to tell a very simple tale in a more interesting way.  Which is okay, since it does. 

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