Opens Thursday 12/11/20 in Australia.
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In 1974 Hollywood, a bottom-feeding, low-rent, schlocky producer of B-grade exploitation movies finds himself in hock to a nasty gangster; to get square, he concocts an insurance-scam scheme to kill an already-suicidal ageing movie star by casting him in a cowboy flick and giving him a lethal stunt to perform.
So far, so great, right? Sublime black-comedy premise within a fantastic milieu. Now add this cast: Robert De Niro as the sleazy producer, Morgan Freeman as the gangster, and… Tommy Lee Jones as the washed-up movie star! On paper, this could have been one of the great Hollywood satires.
It’s not. The script is sloppy – repetitive, one-note, overwritten – and the direction, by George Gallo, who has a long credit list of straight-to-DVD titles, is pedestrian at best and tone-deaf at worst. But the stars, and, very particularly, De Niro, bring something. It’s weird, but it’s something. De Niro plays his grubby Hollywood also-ran, Max Barber, as though cast in the ‘Woody’ role in a Woody Allen movie, and performing the role as Woody would. It’s a really strange choice, and quite a spectacle, but it’s strangely watchable, and the engine of the film. Whatever it is, De Niro’s going for it.
Jones is cast pretty much directly to his strengths, and Freeman is so at ease in his (fewer) scenes that he may be reciting his lines for some other film in his head even as he speaks these ones. They’re pros being pros, which is something to see, but De Niro, at 77, is going out on a whacky limb, and makes this otherwise mediocre movie passably strange.