TMG Scale 6.5
Starring Robert Deniro, Ed Norton, Milla Jovovich

TMG had high expectations. Here we have two of the greatest actors of our time, Deniro and Norton.  TMG nearly drools over his raisinettes awating films involving the likes of Norton, Chris Cooper, Ron Howard, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood…just to name a few. This one started strong and powerful. I started to think, could this beat Primal Fear ?—the 1996 thriller that established  Norton as one of the most powerful actors of our time. Unfortunately, this movie went seriously adrift half way through. It was like fast motor boating across a foggy  lake at night with a million stars above and suddenly the boat runs out of gas and you are left adrift not knowing whether to call for help or paddle your own way in. Then you wake up. Or in this case, the credits came up.

Norton plays “Stone” a prison inmate trying to game  Michigan State prison parole officer,  Jack Mabry,  into giving him a positive recommendation to the parole board.  Mabry is thirty days from retiring and decides to stay with a few cases rather than to just dust off his desk and leave. Bad mistake.  A thousand Hollywood movies, countless Chinese fortune cookies and TMG warn you, to never, ever, embark on any crusade the month or week of your retirement. Mabry tries to avoid getting sucked in by Stone while struggling with his own inner demons. Stone’s wife Lucetta  (played by Jovovich)  is enlisted to seduce Mabry into a favorable parole report.   The contrasts are drawn better than the images of Mabry’s wild eyebrows and Stone’s overly neat,  cornrowed hair. [Is haircare really that good in Michigan prisons?]   The fire was lit. Who is going to get burnt now?

Many “McGuffins” stand out in this film. And I do mean “stand out.” One is Mabry’s Michigan Big Ten Championship ring from 1982.  What does it mean? The director forces it into so many scenes but leaves us wondering if someone on the set is simply a big Michigan fan. Another is Jovovich’s phenomenally protruding nipples—put into this film for no reason at all other than to impress or shock.  I was not sure which. When this film hits DVD,  more than a few guys will hit the rewind button a few thousand times moaning “whoa!” and wondering about what they just witnessed.  Nothing but a McGuffin.  Then there is the opening scene with Mabry, his alcoholic, homely and religious zealot wife.  It might have been a better lead in scene to “The Life and Times of Fred Phelps” but it had little relevance here.  The buzzing bee just made me creep with the recent memory of Bradley Cooper in Case 39. While ‘bee’  metaphors abound in the Bible, I think it was there just to make you feel uncomfortable. Another McGuffin.

Much is made about Stone getting into a new age religion called “Zukangor” that is driven by the spiritual experience of light and sound. You hum your way to salvation apparently.  The ‘religion’ is really Eckankar. Why they changed the name for this film? Probably,  one more McGuffin.

This movie obviously has huge religious overtones. TMG just has no remote idea what they are. Questions are raised about right and wrong, weak and strong, righteousness and evil.  The power of sex and seduction is matched against law and order, fairness and fidelity. It appears no one ever wins.  We all just play the game. Is it a divine plan or just existential chaos?  Like a big and difficult jigsaw puzzle, a meaningful picture should eventually appear—assuming we have all the right pieces.

Good movies don’t shove any message down your throat but at least they lead you to the fountain for something to sip on and talk about.  This film leaves you in the desert of life with no water or compass. You simply relish in Norton and Deniro’s great acting skills.  It is sort of like watching a great cooking show on television when you are really hungry. You are amazed at the execution but still left with an empty stomach and hungry.

TMG suggests you simply go rent or download Primal Fear if you never saw it. And wait for Ed Norton’s next movie.