|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 23 November 1999|
A prologue introduces us to brothers Sam and Jjaks, the latter so named because of a birth certificate typo, who are already at each other’s throats as little boys. Their mother packs Jjaks off to live with his father, keeping Sam with her. As adults, the brothers don’t see much of one another. Then Jjaks (Keanu Reeves) comes home for the wedding of Sam (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Freddie (Cameron Diaz). Freddie is being literally strong-armed into the marriage by the couple’s mutual boss Red (Delroy Lindo), who wants to punish the bride for stealing from him and reward the adoring Sam. 10 minutes after the ceremony, Freddie and Jjaks are doing the wild thing together. A few plot complications later, they are on the run, with the infuriated Sam in hot pursuit.
Reeves projects sweet, perplexed resignation as Jjaks, a man aware of his own limitations but still trying to abide by some sort of moral code. Diaz is beguiling as Freddie, with a touching wistfulness that transcends and transforms the bad-girl character into something more affecting and complex. Director/writer Steven Baigelman lets the tale unspool with a quality of matter-of-fact whimsy. Jjaks is dim, but ardent enough to be likable, while the manipulative Freddie has so much cause to flee that we sympathize with her even as we suspect her motives. Although the tale has some intriguing twists and turns, Baigelman emphasizes flavor over plot. Sometimes this throws us a good curve when we least expect it, but sometimes it simply slows things down, making for an erratic pace.
Sound is decent, albeit unspectacular. The filmmakers often favor the guitar-flavored score over ambient noise. In Chapter 10, a character gets his head rammed into a car headlight; we hear realistic breaking glass, but it’s softer than the insistent soundtrack. Good use is made of songs in a variety of genres and styles, starting straight in Chapter 1 with Johnny Cash (on screen in a TV clip) providing good comment on the action with his classic rendition of "Ring of Fire." Other eclectic but generally apt contributors to the aural mood include Spearhead, the Replacements, Jonny Polonsky, Bob Dylan and Nancy Sinatra.
For those concerned about such things, there is gunplay, toothplay (watch out for Chapter 10) and moderate bloodshed in the service of the narrative and in reminding us how physically uncomfortable most of the characters are. Filmmaker Baigelman comes up with some amusing lines and idiosyncratic outlooks for his characters while maintaining a sense of impending disaster in the air. He keeps us guessing at what will happen next, especially following a startling development in the second half, but after awhile, we wish he’d go at the storytelling with more urgency.