32 posts categorized "2 jalapeños"


Thornton's 'Car' gets flat, tired

Billy Bob Thornton, left, and Kevin Bacon as conflicted brothers. (Anchor Bay Films)
Leave it to Billy Bob Thornton, perhaps the quirkiest of the quirky when it comes to actors and filmmakers, to assemble a notable group of A-list or former A-list actors to slog through an idea that Thornton says was in his head “for quite some time.” 

Rational reasoning, and, I’m guessing, a good number of movie studio decision makers would vote to leave this idea of a family patriarch obsessed with visiting gruesome car crashes on the highway outside of a small town in Thornton’s head.

Not Billy Bob, though.  After all, this is the guy who has portrayed everything from a fiddle-playing Davy Crockett (The Alamo) to implement-wielding, lovable killer Karl Childers (Sling Blade).

There’s nothing wrong with bringing odd or even severely flawed characters to the screen.  The problem with Jayne Mansfield’s Car, co-written by Thornton and former collaborator Tom Epperson (One False Move), co-starring Thornton and directed by Thornton, is that the paper-thin plot stalls in neutral much of the time.

Set in small-town Alabama in 1969 while this country’s hippie movement embraced free love at the same time the USA was divided over the Vietnam War, Jayne Mansfield’s Car spins its creative wheels trying to say something important about families torn apart emotionally yet somehow still bonded together, about fathers and sons and, oddly enough, about the fatal car crash that cut short the life of movie star Jayne Mansfield in 1967.

Thornton’s cast list is impressive.   Oscar winner Robert Duvall, who played Thornton’s conflicted father in Sling Blade, is back as Thornton’s tight-lipped, conflicted dad again here.  Although Thornton, Kevin Bacon and Robert Patrick portray play middle-aged siblings all going a little middle-age crazy, this family dynamic is about as far removed from the old TV sitcom “My Three Sons” as one can imagine.

Bacon takes on the role of Carroll, the aged hippie of the family, and looks more than a little silly in long hair leading a lethargic small-town Vietnam War protest parade.  Patrick, probably forever typecast as robot T-1000 in Terminator 2:  Judgment Day, is Jimbo, tarnished by both his brothers’ reps as World War II heroes.   Skip (Thornton), a pilot in the WWII, bears scars – emotional and otherwise – that have left him stuck in child mode in many ways.

Jayne Mansfield’s Car suffers no lack of grist for the dramatic mill.  And that’s where Thornton and Epperson eventually begin to build at least flickers of decent dramatic fire.  Papa Duvall’s ex, who long ago ran off to England and never returned, has died.  Her widower (John Hurt) and family have accompanied the body back to Alabama for burial.

As Duvall and Hurt, two formidable actors, spar verbally with very little to say to each other, the other members of this oddball household engage in various degrees of flirtation and coupling, dope smoking and generational bonding.

Don’t expect anything as gripping as Sling Blade.  For me, though, Thornton is one of those filmmakers who pushes the envelope fearlessly.    And he has assembled some really good actors and actresses around him.  It’s just that this project lacks the emotional punch – the Thornton kick in the gut, if you will – of some of his earlier work.

As offbeat as Jayne Mansfield’s Car is onscreen, it is almost as odd off.  Thornton’s semi-failed experiment in hard-hitting family melodrama just opened in a few movie houses on Sept. 13 (appropriately enough, Friday the 13th).

Odder still, Jayne Mansfield’s Car parallel parked in several cable and satellite systems’ On Demand queues two weeks prior to the movie-house release.

That’s where you can find it; lurking and bizarrely interesting, like accident victims on the highway just outside the city limits.


MPAA rating:  R (profanity, sexual content, nudity, drug use, bloody images)

Running time:  122 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  2 (out of 4)


Gimme that ol' time religion, a new putter

In a perfect cinematic world, a utopia, if you will, a wise, world-weary Robert Duvall on a horse would be quite enough to ignite dramatic sparks.

Utopia, however, is imagined perfection; an unobtainable, if noble, pilgrimage to a non-existent place.

"Seven Days in Utopia," lensed in the real Texas Hill Country hamlet of Utopia (85 miles northwest of San Antonio), features a somewhat real-life world-weary Duvall on a horse.  

Unfortunately, that is not enough to provide inspirational, not to mention entertaining, cinema.

Based on David Cook's book "Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia," the big-screen version is a warm-hearted call to religion with professional golf and the sleepy Texas Hill Country as a backdrop.

It plays like an uneasy mixture of "Tin Cup," which featured Kevin Costner as an imploding golfer on tour, "The Karate Kid" and summer Bible school at the First Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, TX, which I attended in my youth.

Lucas Black, reuniting with Duvall after sharing the screen in "Sling Blade" and "Get Low," portrays troubled golfer Luke Chisholm.

There is no gospel, according to Luke.

Browbeaten by his father into becoming the next young sensation on the pro golf tour no matter what, the Waco native has a meltdown on the course, breaks his putter over his knee and drives off to somewhere, anywhere to heal his deep emotional wounds.

Quite by chance, it would seem, he winds up in Utopia, TX.  Johnny Crawford, not the actor-singer who played "The Rifleman's" son on TV in the late '50s-early '60s, but a beloved town character played by Duvall, takes the young man under his wing.  

Seeing something of himself in Luke, Johnny offers to teach the lost soul in golf spikes the proper way to play golf in a week.  He also tosses in how to get your head right and how to make the Bible a companion and life guide, although the life lessons come semi-stealthly and as an added bonus.

"Seven Days in Utopia" would work better as a G-rated golf ball swatter, Bible-thumper if an experienced director, like Duvall, for instance, took on added duties as director.  Duvall directed himself to a best actor Oscar nomination in 1997 as a Texas preacher in "The Apostle."

First-timer Matt Russell, a visual effects coordinator sliding into the directing chair, appears more concerned with how things look (and there are some gorgeous shots) than how flat and hokey scenes are playing.

Duvall is fine, although uninspired, in a role he could play in his sleep.

Co-star Black, though, acts like he is sleep-walking much of the time.  If Black has another facial expression other than the stone-faced one on display throughout here, I'd love to see it.
Some will call "Seven Days in Utopia" sentimental hokum that means well and speaks from the heart, but -- like the lightning bugs trapped in a jar in a slightly strained life lesson scene -- fails to ignite into memorable cinema.

I, unfortunately, am among those naysayers.

From this aisle seat, this is a difficult stance to take for three reasons.

(1) Duvall has deeply moved me emotionally and intellectually throughout much of my 31-year career as a film critic.  I will never forget Duvall's broken-down country-singer/songwriter Mac Sledge in "Tender Mercies" (1983).  Sledge convinced me when he said, "I don't trust happiness.  I never did, I never will."

(2)  This is a small-budget film obviously made with a lot of love for God, film making and the Texas Hill Country.

(3)  After over three decades offering my opinion on movies to anyone who would listen, read or watch, this is my final review of a debuting film.

(More on that to come soon.)


'Bad Teacher' sent to comic detention

A couple of weeks ago, this looked like a blossoming cinematic summer of lowbrow, raunchy girl power.

Well, "Bridesmaids" did its part with bottom-feeder bodily malfunction laughs the like of which haven't been seen since Jeff Daniels' outrageous guest bathroom experience in "Dumb & Dumber" way back in the prehistoric comic ages of 1994.

Unfortunately, "Bad Teacher" can't carry the Girls Can Be Just As Comically Nasty As Boys torch forward.

Cameron Diaz's jilted fiancée/teacher who, according to "Bad Teacher's" catchphrase, doesn't give an F might just find that some movie critics who rate flicks from A to F do.

Showing flickers of creativity in early scenes, when awful high school teacher Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) shows her students movies about teachers teaching instead of bothering to do it herself, "Bad Teacher" quickly becomes a mirrored image of the main character's goal in life:  a boob job.

Like "Bridesmaids" and "The Hangover Part II," "Bad Teacher" provides a steady barrage of below-the-belt humor, drugs and sex.  The only thing missing here most of the time is laugh-provoking gags.

Diaz ("Green Hornet," "Knight and Day") snarls her way on cue through a limp script by writing partners Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg ("Year One").  There's even the added curiosity of Justin Timberlake, Diaz's former significant other, co-starring as Russell, a substitute teacher she has her eye on.

That fizzles as well.  Timberlake, an excellent actor, really, gets lost behind a pair of plastic-rimmed glasses and a milquetoast character.  The aw shucks love interest is brought to the screen in an aw shucks, who cares? manner by Jason Segel, who fails to connect with Diaz or his character.

Only Lucy Punch (Darla in "Dinner for Schmucks") dives head first into her character, a nutty goody-two-shoes teacher named Amy Squirrel.

Director Jake Kasdan ("Walk Hard:  The Dewey Cox Story") makes a primal filmmaking mistake in this one.  Raunchy material is fine as long as it's in tandem with humor.  There are at least 10 misses to every joke that scores in this one.  

Diaz should know that.  She was hilarious sporting that, uh, special hair gel as the title character in "There's Something About Mary" in 1998.

One word stands out in "Bad Teacher." And it ain't "Teacher."


'Paul' needs to phone home for more guffaws

Although comic actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost might not admit it, before "Paul," their latest effort, they were Great Britain's version of Abbott and Costello, or Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In comedies like "Shawn of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "Run Fatboy Run," Pegg pegged the straight role (Abbott and Martin) while Frost goofed around as the funny, or at least funnier guy (Costello and Lewis).

To put it bluntly, there are two Abbotts and a definite need for a Costello in "Paul," a mildly funny alien/human road picture featuring the voice of funny guy Seth Rogen in the title roll and a scene-stealing featured role for "Saturday Night Live's" Kristen Wiig.

Wiig made me laugh the most as Ruth Buggs, a one-eyed religious zealot who breaks away from her Bible-thumping, shotgun-toting father to join the adventure.

Adventure doesn't necessarily mean a consistently comic one, however. This one, written by best pals and frequent collaborators Pegg and Frost and directed by Greg Mottola ("Adventureland," "Superbad"), is rather pedestrian.

That's despite a computer-generated extra-terrestrial (Rogen) on the run to hook up with his mother ship and get home. Of course, there are buffoons (government and from Hicksville) who get in the way.

I kept waiting for Pegg and Frost to make me laugh, as they have many times before. But the duo of Brit wits are resigned to being reactors in this one, relying on the CGI alien and Rogen's quips to do the comic heavy lifting. Unfortunately, that just never materializes.

"Paul," and thus screenwriters Pegg and Frost, borrow heavily from Steven Spielberg's "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Somehow (movie studio nudging, perhaps?) they even get Spielberg to phone in during an embarrassing conversation with the alien.

The talents of Jason Bateman ("Up in the Air," "Juno"), Jane Lynch ("Glee" on TV) and "Saturday Night Live's" Bill Hader are pretty much wasted in secondary roles.

"Paul" isn't a total washout. There are spotty laughs to be found here and there.

When it comes to the sparse comedy, though, it's impossible to tell who's on first.


Another comic misfire from Adam Sandler

For what seemed like a very long time, I tried to just go along with "Just Go With It."

Adam Sandler, who could use a hit, and Jennifer Aniston (ditto) team up for an offbeat romantic-comedy that looks like it'll be funny, but isn't much. 

"Just Go With It," loosely based on the 1969 Walter Matthau, Goldie Hawn comic gem "Cactus Flower," isn't a monumental stinker on the scale of "Grown Ups," Sandler's most recent outing.
You may remember "Grown Ups"?  That was last year's comic buddies reunion posing as a movie.

This one is more in line -- or I should say off-line -- with "Funny People," Sandler's 2009 effort that was seriously lacking in, uh, funny people.

Sandler starts out with a very big prosthetic nose and a crushed heart in the opening scenes of "Just Go With It," which begins in 1988.

Emotionally wounded when he overhears his soon-to-be-bride bragging about the guy she really loves (and has had recent dalliances with), Danny (Sandler) goes on what turns out to be a 20-year-mission pretending to be unhappily married to get sympathy sex from women.

When director Dennis Dugan leapfrogs to present time, Danny is a successful Beverly Hills plastic surgeon with a decent chiseled-down nose.  He's got some office flirtation thing going on with his assistant, Katherine (Aniston), and the serious oh-la-la hots for a much younger schoolteacher named Palmer.  She's played by Sports Illustrated cover girl swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker.

I think most of my waning interest kicked in when the convoluted plot began to involve Katherine's children in a drawn-out fake marriage plot that takes the audience to the sunny beaches of Hawaii and me to thoughts of when I might be able to get in my car and head home.

"Just Go With It" is another one of those "Let's go on a vacation and make a movie while we're there" films.  Everyone in this underachieving comedy, including musician Dave Matthews and Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, who play husband and wife, appear to be having a good time.  From what I could tell, those of us sitting in the dark who might not get to Hawaii to frolic in the surf this year, not so much.

As for Sandler and Aniston, the romantic chemistry factor is nil.

Although it does muster a few scattered funny moments, "Just Go With It" is, on the whole, another Sandler misfire.

Almost everything is overly silly, just plain boring or overstated by Dugan, who's directing Sandler for the sixth time.  In fact, it's seven if you count the upcoming "Jack and Jill," which stars Sandler in both roles.

The Sandler-Dugan collaboration began happily with the goofy golf comedy "Happy Gilmore" in 1996.  From this aisle seat, it should have been one-and-done.

Adam Sandler is a major comic talent.  He needs to be making better, more entertaining movies.


Don't go to the 'Cabaret,' I mean 'Burlesque'

I liked "Burlesque" much better when it was called "Cabaret" and won eight Academy Awards back in 1972.

"Burlesque," a shameful, blatant rip-off of one of the greatest edgy musicals of all time, nonetheless provides a couple of decent showcase seats in a starring vehicle.  That would be for present-day sultry songstress Christina Aguilera and Cher, who occupied that throne for a couple of decades.

Writer-director Steven Antin, a rookie feature film-maker, uses his experience as a music video director to trump musical cues with gusto.  In fact, Antin shows promise, executing quick edits that mean something musically with skill rarely seen since "Hair" burned draft cards in Central Park back in  1979.

Antin might be selling his soul to the devil a little by taking on this project, however.  "Burlesque" shamelessly rips off "Cabaret" from the gifted young singer fighting for a break -- Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret," Aguilera as Ali here -- right down to the retro nightclub decadence and Alan Cumming doing a poor Joel Grey impression as the flamboyant host of vague gender.

If you must go for the glitz, the hype and the frequent in-movie concert performances by Aguilera, just know that Mr. Antin is no director Bob Fosse and "Burlesque" can't hold a feathered fan to "Cabaret."

Ignorance, which is not usually really bliss, is here.  If you have no knowledge of "Cabaret" (and my question would be "Why not?"), it might be possible to stretch your disbelief to an extreme where you go along with an old fashioned, World War I era burlesque club existing today on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.

Even then, though, the whole affair is laughably preposterous.  One of the girl dancers calls The Burlesque Lounge a "strip club."  Yet the only nudity  in this sappy musical is that of semi-leading man Jack's (Cam Gigandet) rear end.  Butt I digress.

This one's all about the music, and "saving the farm" (club) from the bank.  Sad economic times are about as close as this film ever gets to anything resembling reality.  A huge balloon mortgage payment is due in days.  If Tess (Cher) and Sean (Stanley Tucci, who's slumming, but still good), her soul-mate stage manager, can't wrangle a miracle, the party will be over.

Movies like this are all about pulling off the unthinkable, of course.  Why else would the filmmakers rattle the "Cabaret" bones and hope ("Oh please, oh please") that no one notices the crossing of the line from homage to downright thievery?

Aguilera, a bona fide belter with brass pipes, passes well enough as the driven new girl in her feature film starring debut.  Ali's a recent L.A. import from Iowa who wants to get from here (a waitress job) to there (the Burlesque Lounge) in the worst way.

Cher, as the stubborn matriarch to a coven of hip shakers, proves once again that she can not only sing, but act as well.  In a cheesy musical full of contrivances, I didn't mind so much when Cher, as Tess, parks herself on a stool in the middle of a dark stage and blows the roof off the joint with a throaty "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me."

Of that we can be sure.

If we never saw the first of "Burlesque," however, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.


Allen curses the chaos yet again

Almost every filmmaker deals with clichés.

Woody Allen, however, has the uncanny ability to exploit the trite and overused as if he's the Magellan of literature; bravely forging first footprints.

In addition to getting to watch some good actors work in the offbeat romantic-comedy (See, there's a cliché) "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," Allen dishes on an aging husband ditching his wife for a younger woman, the seven year or so marital itch, stealing another creator's work and, ah yes, Woody's favorite, that unavoidable date with the grim reaper.

This is not one of Allen's best films, even when narrowing the comparison to relatively recent ones.  "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," the 2008 venture out of New York (Allen's comfort zone) that netted co-star Penélope Cruz a supporting actress Oscar, is far superior, for instance.  

This title, though, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," is Woody at his cowering-in-the-face-of-life's-ultimate-outcome best.  Unlike the bouncy soundtrack, which might just feature the director himself on clarinet, the tale of much ado about life's major bumps in the road plays a little off entertainment key.

Veteran actor Anthony Hopkins -- all slimmed down these days, like a senior lifeguard -- fidgets as Alfie, an elder "player."  His wife Helena (Gemma Jones) tried to commit suicide when Alfie split, muscled up and bought a convertible.  Now she drinks and wastes her money on a charlatan fortune teller named Cristal (Pauline Collins, who's quite good).

Helena's daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) has tired of waiting for her out-of-work husband Roy (Josh Brolin), a long-ago one-hit-wonder novelist, to write something else that'll sell.

She's slowly falling for Greg (Antonio Banderas), the art gallery owner she works for.  Meanwhile, Roy spends most of his time staring out the window at a mystery young woman (Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire") in the apartment building -- Excuse me, flat; Woody's shooting in London for the fourth time  -- next door.

Oh, and there's one other major character in the mix. British actress Lucy Punch ("Dinner for Schmucks"), who reportedly took over for Nicole Kidman in this role, portrays ditsy-like-a-fox Charmaine.  Alfie (Hopkins) first met her by ordering Charmaine on the telephone like a pizza (or, since it's London, fish and chips).

The acting is top notch.  But the tired central theme -- a cliché in itself -- is growing whiskers by now.  Once again, Allen returns us to his creative vortex; the chaos and nothingness of the universe.

We get it, Woody.  Life's a bitch and then we die.  But not before seeing one more of your movies cringing at the issue.

I like the title very much, though.  And Leon Redbone singing "When You Wish Upon a Star" to open and close the hopelessness of it all ...



'Going the Distance' stops short of success

Why is it that actors who happen to be couples in real life often don't heat up a movie screen?

Don't get me wrong.  "Going the Distance," which pairs former and perhaps current couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, is no bunker buster bomb like "Gigli" (Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck).

It is, however, a romantic-comedy with potential that gets seriously diffused with gross-out sex humor and implausibility.

Erin (Barrymore) is a 31-year-old whose life -- love and otherwise -- is stuck in neutral.  She has drive to become a newspaper reporter, but no place to park in a recessed economy where veteran journalists are being shown the door in droves.  Yet she plods along as a rather aged (over 30) summer intern.

When she gets depressed, she hangs out at a local bar and plays video games.  That's where she bumps into Garrett (Long), a junior level record company agent who's been broken up with his former girlfriend for, oh, about 15 minutes.

Something clicks between Erin and Garrett, but she's off to San Francisco to finish her degree.  So they try the dreaded long-distance relationship.

"Going the Distance" works best when the two stars share the same scene.  The very nature of the script by newcomer Geoff LaTulippe makes that impossible much of the time, however.
LaTulippe and director Nanette Burstein (the "American Teen" documentary) try to compensate by grossing out the audience with guy-buddy jokes on the East Coast and sex on the dining table out west.

This is not a horrible film.  Barrymore, one of our most enduring female 30-somethings, and Long ("Taking Chances,"  Mac in those Apple TV commercials) are pleasant enough to watch.  They just don't compel our attention.

And, frankly, whatever sparks there were/are between Barrymore and Long away from a movie camera are no big whoop in this rather dull, dragged-outl romantic-comedy co-starring Christina Applegate and Jason Sudeikis.

Heads roll, but 'Machete' a cut below

It's back to the grindhouse for Robert Rodriguez, the split-personality Texas filmmaker who alternates between blood-guts-and-sluts exploitation flicks and gimmick-laced films for children.

"Machete," germinated in a blood-thirsty fake "Grindhouse" trailer back in '07, features chiseled-face character actor Danny Trejo as a machete-slinging ex-Federale from Mexico slicing and dicing bad and badder hombres on the El Norte side of the border.

On more than one occasion, the Texas capitol building looms in the Austin background.  Heads roll, a guy's guts spill from a multi-story hospital building and a naked lady finds an interesting, if not unique, place to hide her cell phone.

In other words, this is not the next installment in Rodriguez's "Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl" kiddie show series.

Rodriguez, working with both a co-director (Ethan Maniquis, a longtime collaborator) and co-screenwriter (Alvaro Rodriguez, who co-wrote "Shorts"),  serves up just what he must think his hardcore grunge cinema fans want:  violence and T&A with some twists of irony and a heaping helping of hokum.

Who but Rodriguez, with the possible exception of Quentin Tarantino, would even think of casting dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker Robert De Niro as a  drawling Texas state senator?  Senator McLaughlin's idea of taking a hard line on the immigration issue involves human sport hunting on the U.S. side of the Texas/Mexico border late at night.

From this aisle seat, Rodriguez appears to be struggling more than a little this time out.  He covers it fairly well with outrageous bursts of blood-spurting violence sure to fan the "Yeah, yeah, yeah!" flames of those unable to distinguish the difference between exploitation flicks and films exploiting the target audience.

Rodriguez admits in the film's production notes that he has longed to forge John Woo's Asian action masterpieces such as "Hard Boiled" and "The Killer" into similar vehicles for a Latin anti-hero.  

So with "Machete" we get Trejo (a Rodriguez troupe player) as "CIA, FBI and DEA all rolled into one mean burrito."  Fine, but Rodriguez's effort feels desperately contrived.  His characters -- or, more specifically, caricatures -- are dumbed-down so much that the screenplay appears to be talking down to even devotees of B-movie grunge.

It would be different if this bloodletting succeeded in poking fun at the absurdity of crooked politics and an ego-crazed drug lord (Steven Seagal) and a do-gooder underground soldier of fortune (Michelle Rodriguez pushing tacos and immigrant rights).  And time and space issues don't even allow me the latitude to dive into the choice of casting perpetually troubled actress Lindsay Lohan as an often-topless Austin sexpot drug addict.

Unfortunately, "Machete" leaps so gleefully over the top that it quickly bottoms out.

This isn't a B-movie.  At best "Machete" is a C-minus exercise in overkill taking dead aim at orchestrating its own blood-lust feeding frenzy and disguising it as a sub movie genre.


An 'American' in paralysis

George Clooney, one of the world's most gregarious movie stars in real life, has gone stoic on screen to the extent that it's almost time to check for a pulse.

After diving into such a deep trance in "The Men Who Stare At Goats" last year that it looked like he was auditioning for dream-state status in either "Avatar" or "Inception," Clooney has emerged instead to mope his way through "The American," a hit-man thriller that could have been titled "The Quiet Man's Got a Gun."  

Thank goodness for last year's excellent "Up in the Air."  That drama-with-comedy with Clooney as a corporate ax man was dour and bitter as well.  But it was also quick-witted and cleverly structured.

My problem with "The American" is not Clooney's squinty-eyed acting or the plot about a cold-blooded killer on the run who holds up in a quaint little Italian village.  The biggest drawback is that sophomore director Anton Corbijn allows "The American" to move too deliberately across the screen.

It's almost as if the actors -- especially Clooney, who does stare at goats for a brief moment in this one -- are allowed to reminisce over the scene just completed before moving on.

And there's this.  Corbijn, who used to direct music videos for a living, allows long screen moments to pass with no musical score whatsoever.  Jack (Clooney) rents a room and spends a larger-than-usual time staring out the window.  That passive outlook worked well with "Control," Corbijn's riveting debut musical bio-drama of 2007.  It's overkill here, though.

Make no mistake, Jack has a reason to be edgy.  Even though Rowan Joffe's screenplay (based on the late Martin Booth's 1990 novel "A Very Private Gentleman") gives us no back story, a sudden eruption of violence that turns the snow crimson in some Swedish woods sets the life-or-death tone before we see Jack run to Italy.

"The American" ranks as one of the most somber thrillers I've ever seen.  Clooney speaks in sing-song monotone even when he's caressing a local hooker who's also a looker (Italian actress Violante Placido as Clara).  Strictly business, he tells the local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) he's in town to photograph the countryside for a vaguely spelled-out group of magazines.

Jack plans to do some shooting, all right.  But it's not with a camera.  He's assembling a long-range assassin rifle for a lady of mystery portrayed by Dutch actress Thekla Reuten.  Her sullen manner is equally as dead-pan as Clooney's.

When the plot thickens (it was congealed near-solid from the get-go), "The American" finally gets down to the nasty business.  At some point, a hit man is usually forced take a split-second to reconsider the consequences of that particular chosen line of work.

Now that's a pause I could live with.  Even with Clooney in the lead, "The American" slogs too deliberately through the underbelly of humanity.