There’s such a thing as being too self-aware.
In one of the funniest moments of “Amphetamine,” one character remarks to another – “How do you know there’s going to be a showdown? This isn’t ‘Tombstone,’ Jarrod.”
And I’ll admit it, I laughed pretty hard at the joke. I laughed substantially less hard forty minutes later, as one gangster screamed to go to the hospital because he’s been shot in the belly, and the same character spat out – “This isn’t ‘Reservoir Dogs’!”
I laughed not at all when the standard Tarantino trunk shot showed up – you know the one – bad guy opens the trunk, and suddenly we, the audience are in the trunk looking up at the characters in question. That one.
But let’s back up a second and get the setup. There are two major forces in town – Davis, a black man in a nice suit, and Malkira, an extra from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who must have cut some kind of deal so he could keep his clothes.
Anyway, for reasons best explained as “money,” the two big bads of the town have cut a deal where a million dollars- half cash, half drugs – is changing hands.
Jarrod has other plans. He’s one of Davis’s hit men, along with Ray, Key and Mitch. Jarrod rolls out a ten-step plan to rip the money off, with no one the wiser. It isn’t perfect, and Key doesn’t like it, but it’s as close to perfect as it’s going to get and Key has debts to pay, so he’s in.
It’s here that the movie starts to degenerate, as the four henchmen head out for a night on the town, along with Jarrod’s girlfriend. We’re now trapped in a ten-minute sequence that communicates about four seconds of vital information. The rest of it is drinking, dancing and dialogue that obviously is meant to mirror “Swingers.”
There’s a pattern starting to emerge here.
It’s hard to fault Chris Grega for the pattern. Here’s a guy who obviously thought that “Swingers,” Reservoir Dogs and “Tombstone” were all great movies, and that he’d like to make a flick just like them. And why not? Tarantino himself has come out and admitted that he’s pulling most of his ideas from the westerns and Hong Kong flicks and the grindhouse work he loves so much.
But what Grega doesn’t seem to realize is that he’s doing a pastiche of a pastiche, and that copping to it in his dialogue doesn’t really make it okay. One imagines him sitting up late at night, coffee in hand and the Pulp Fiction soundtrack blaring on the stereo, saying to himself “You know that scene in ‘Reservoir Dogs’ where he’s in the bathroom, only he’s really in a bar telling other people a story about the time he was in the bathroom. This scene is going to be just like that. Oh, and this scene, where…” and so on, until he finally types The End.
There are other issues, scenes that really don’t go anywhere and events that seem somewhat under motivated, if they’re motivated at all. The worst offender is Malkira, who prepares to rough a man up and take over his business. In the final shot of the scene, flames leap into his eyes. Given his costume and general mode of speaking I started watching for a goth/satanic angle that never actually appeared. I remain perplexed by it.
What makes the film all the more frustrating is that there are some truly nice touches sprinkled throughout the film. The directing is solid, though it has the same derivative issues as the script. The character of Kate is both surprisingly well written and well played, particularly as the movie reaches its inevitable twisted conclusion. The musical selections range from good to great, and the song running over the credits is killer.
There are other things that are chuckle-worthy, like the “Monday (Not THE Monday) overlay and the previously-mentioned “Tombstone” reference.
Grega just might have a really good movie in him somewhere, but he needs to take the training wheels off his writing and directing bike.
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