First off, wow! That’s some cast! Robert DeNiro, Margot Robbie, Christian Bale, Chris Rock, Anna Taylor-Joy, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, and Taylor Swift? I mean, come on! That means the script is just as good, right? Right?!
From the bizarre mind of controversial writer/director of David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, Joy, American Hustle) comes this throwback period picture of deception, intrigue, and dead bodies. . . and it’s a comedy? Set in 1933 NYC, this peculiar tale tells the story of three best pals: Black lawyer Harold Woodsman (John David Washington), his sweetheart, nurse Valerie Voze (Robbie), and long-suffering doctor, Dr. Burt Berendsen (a gaunt-looking Bale, talking like Al Pacino and sporting an Eraserhead hairdo). However, there’s trouble afoot when Harold & Burt are hired by Elizabeth Meekins (Swift), a mysterious young lady, to find out who killed her father, Senator Bill Meekins (Ed Begley, Jr.), the guy’s old war captain.
The plot thickens after Harold & Burt are framed for her murder, which leads into a flashback to 1918, WW I, and how our three besties met in the first place. Anywho, when we get back to 1933, the guys need to clear their names and find in their investigation a rabbit’s hole centering on the upper class. After a quick autopsy with the help of Harold’s asst. (Rock) and Irma St. Clair (Saldana), a beautiful coroner, the boys turn up a clue that leads them to their old war pal, Valerie. Seems she is being kept a prisoner by her super-wealthy and affluent relatives, Libby & Tom Voze (Taylor-Joy & Malek).
Once out, the three Musketeers get back together and decide to solve this crime, but stumble onto something even bigger, something that involves high-ranking and respected General Gil Dillenbeck (DeNiro) and a possible new axis of power. One thing is for sure, O’Russell’s story wants desperately to be one of those screwball detective comedies of the 40’s like The Thin Man or Bulldog Drummond, but the humor is barely there. Somewhere in this overly-long, chatty, and narrated movie is a decent crime story, but it’s a mess. A gorgeous, beautifully shot, and acted mess, yes, but still a mess. Many scenes are unnecessary, boring, or have no point or pay-off. But, good Lord, do the actors give it their all!
Bale is excellent and vanishes into his role as some kinda defrocked mad scientist who’s committed to helping only veterans. This is really another chameleon role for him, while Robbie and Washington are his wonderful sidekicks. The only decent laughs come from Rock (of course) and DeNiro shines, even though he only shows up in the third act. Shannon & Myers are pretty much wasted here (a shame), as is Saldana, who shoulda been given more. This movie reminded me of an old Coen Brothers film (Blood Simple), but without all the pizzazz, tension, or terrific dialogue necessary to keep your attention rapt. O’Russell does capture the mood with great costuming, sets, and production values, but it’s his script that needed a boost.
** Now showing only in theaters