This week:
Red Dragon

Filthy says:
"A passable mechanical forgery."

Everyone has demons. Everyone is perverted, or has at least a sliver of evil in his soul. Well, okay, retarded people and maybe little tiny babies don't, but the rest of us do. The difference between people is how well they hide their demons. Someone like the Harelip wears hers on the surface, like charms on a bracelet, flashing 'em around and showing 'em off like vacation souvenirs. "Oh, I got that one for having a daughter in foster care." "Oh, this little old thing? Why, they gave me that for all my domestic disturbances." "They gave me this one for always talking about how much I like pornos." I suppose the honesty is nice, but it's kind of nasty when a lady boasts about getting horny over dirty movies. I like the more old-fashioned kind of girls: the innocent kind who've never seen a porno and never want to, but then start rubbing you like a magic lamp when they accidentally see a little girl-girl action.

Mother Teresa, on the other hand, buried her demons deep between her bones. Maybe she had a thing for golden showers, wanted to take a shit on Brad Pitt's chest, or knew to sell her imClone stock last Christmas. Whatever, she probably had just as many demons creeping around under her skin as the Harelip or Dick Cheney or me. It's just that she suppressed her impure thoughts, burying them under heavy blankets of good deeds and kindness.

People like the Harelip who don't hide their demons aren't very interesting. It doesn't take long to figure them out. But people who do hide them are, especially when they can't suppress all the evil. I mean, think about how fascinating Mother Teresa would have been if she were also a serial killer.

That's the sort of person the villain Francis Dolarhyde is supposed to be in Red Dragon. He's supposed to be the sort of serial killer that we sympathize with because he wants to be a good person, and tries to be a good person, but his bad intentions keep poking out, like a boner from a Speedo. I say he's supposed to be, and maybe he would have been in the hands of a subtler director than Brett Ratner. As it is, he's a cartoon, but not funny like "Peanuts." More like "Garfield."

Red Dragon is a prequel to Silence of the Lambs, based on Thomas Harris's book of the same name. It is the second adaptation, following Manhunter by Michael Mann. In fact, the first 90 minutes of this movie are damn near identical to Manhunter, except that the earlier movie respects our intelligence, leaves more to the imagination and looks like a "Miami Vice" video. Visually, Red Dragon has nothing in common with the earlier prequel movie. It's more a rip-off of Silence, using the same images, actors, and hoping to God a little class will rub off on it. At least that makes it about a billion times better than the steaming pile of last year's Hannibal. Really, as long as the movie doesn't veer too far from the book it's a passable thriller. It's efficient, swift and ahead of the audience, at least until the predictable he's-not-really-dead ending that looks like something on a Skinemax thriller.

An older Anthony Hopkins is back to play a younger Lecter. He's too old for the part, really, and to compensate he pancakes on so much makeup he looks a little like Ronald McDonald. He must be willing to play Lecter so long as the check clears: next he'll be doing Lecter in industrial safety videos, reminding factory workers not to get eaten by co-workers, helping Pontiac sell Azteks to the psychopath demographic, and appearing as the center square on "Hollywood Squares", so long as the check clears.

Warning: if you are a big crybaby, do not read on. I probably give away some of the movie's surprises. I believe whiny pricks call them "spoilers". I don't even know what I give away, but some fucking crybabies will bitch about something like me revealing someone's hairstyle or shoe size. Hell, why don't you fucking pissants just blindfold yourselves until you're in the theater so that even the movie's title is a surprise?

Edward Norton is a former FBI agent, great at understanding the motives of lunatics, but retired after nearly being killed by Hopkins. A new serial killer is on the loose, killing families, slotting shards of mirror into their eye sockets and fucking the mothers. He has killed two unrelated families and will kill a third the next time the moon is full. Stumped, the FBI calls Norton out of his Florida Keys retirement home. It's partially because he's good, and partially because he is the only agent who can draw out Hopkins's Lecter. As a psychokiller, Hopkins is very good at understanding other nuts.

Ralph Fiennes is insecure pretty-boy murderer Francis Dolarhyde, the kind of bad guy that lives in a ramshackle nursing home with an ancient safe full of news-clippings and a mammoth painting of his mean grandmother on the wall. Some of us consider digs like that a Goddamn country club compared to the one-bedroom apartment by the railroad tracks that we share with an incontinent dog and a plus-sized wife. In Red Dragon it's meant to be creepy and sinister, like the low-budget horror standards of an old summer camp, a remote cabin or an abandoned mental institution. Fiennes is a harelip (swear to God) that is self-conscious about the thin scar running from his mouth to nose. That and his grandmother's abuse have driven him to an obsession with becoming a dragon. He's tattooed, sculpted by free weights, and he kills the families for his god complex-fantasies; he props up the bodies to "watch" as he fucks the hot, chesty moms.

Because of a nosy journalist (the criminally-underused Philip Seymour Hoffman), Fiennes learns his crimes have caught the attention of Norton and Hopkins. He's flattered and writes to his idol Hopkins, who helps him out with encouragement and Norton's home address. Then it becomes a cat-and-mouse game. In fact, Ratner and writer Tally have no problem telling us many times that everyone involved is very clever, and this is a very smart movie. That's thoughtful of them.

The catch is that Fiennes plans are disrupted by love. He meets blind film processor Emily Watson, a woman who can't see that he's disfigured. As love always does in movies, it transforms him. He doesn't want to kill anymore, he wants to settle down and have a bunch of scaly little dragon babies. Jealousy and insecurity drive him into rage, though, and he commits acts of incredible stupidity that seriously jeopardize his chances of making it into the serial killer hall of fame. Among other dumb acts of a man the story wants to think is a mad genius, Fiennes eats a rare painting, hamhocks two museum workers and shoots a man in public.

Fiennes's transformation from meticulous lunatic to irrational lover is bullshit. I know for a fact that true love can't even get a guy to take out the garbage, let alone stop a killer. In the hands of a writer equipped with a junior college psychology text, however, love has infinite powers.

It's a decent movie, at least until the "twist" ending. By borrowing so heavily from Silence of the Lambs, the movie looks pretty good, and for the first ninety minutes, it moves fast and tight enough that the lack of character isn't too big a problem. Hopkins is too old, but he still makes a bad-ass Lecter. Under the bad make-up is a tight performance about a guy so damn creepy that's he's scary as shit while behind bars. Every time he's on screen I couldn't help thinking "He's smarter than the guards and he's gonna figure out an escape."

The ending, though. Holy fuck, what a disaster. Like so many bad horror movie monsters, Fiennes appears to be dead but isn't. His character, logic or the story does not dictate his survival. It's the result of lazy storytellers' insatiable cravings for cheap "surprises". Fuck the cat and mouse game, to hell with all the efforts to make it a mental game. Harris, Tally and Ratner would rather gorge their worst tendencies like Mrs. Filthy on a diet and faced with a pan of double deluxe brownies. That cheap, fast sugar high is too easy to resist.

Red Dragon's goal of being a smart thriller is also tainted by the cheap and obvious pop psychology used to paint the characters. Norton's FBI agent is supposed to be just barely on this side of sanity. He's a man who once had to be institutionalized because he thought too much like the killers he tracked. He quit the FBI because he was afraid he'd crack again and go too far. None of that is in Red Dragon. Instead, the character's as dull as wet bread. They might as well have a laptop computer with voice synthesis on the screen for all the personality Norton provides. The rest of the FBI is similarly dull, like the Bat Computer. You feed a tidbit of information in, and after a few beeps and clicks, an improbable, yet correct, conclusion spits out. We don't even get the treat of watching Adam West suck in his gut. For it to be interesting, I want to see the demons these guys are burying.

Fiennes' villain is a Goddamn mess, and the problem is the fiddling Tally and Ratner did. They piled on the explanations and justifications for why he's such a creep, but none of it's interesting or original. He's more like a few chapters from "Intro to Psychology" than a person. It's a case where the less said the more we imagine.

I give it Three Fingers. All in all, though, I 'd rather see a Mother Teresa with a leather mask and chainsaw.

Want to tell Filthy Something?

Filthy's Reading
Mark Twain - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Listening to
Beck - Sea Change

Wet Hot American Summer

Shawn Edwards of Fox TV

White Oleander is "A 4-Star Classic! One of the year’s best films!"

Red Dragon is "A suspenseful masterpiece!"


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