Friday, March 30, 2012

Reel Low: 44 Inch Chest [2009]

Sometimes the opening moments of a movie are so oddly hilarious, it's a challenge trying to decipher whether or not you're actually supposed to be laughing or not. Such is the case with 44 Inch Chest *.

In the opening sequence, we're greeted to the trashed home of our principal character, Colin, complete with him sprawled out on the floor staring unblinking at the ceiling in emotional distress and playing Harry Nilsson's original version of "Without You" on repeat. I mean, even after completing the movie I realize it's probably supposed to be a joke, but like much of the other dark humor throughout the film, the creative team behind it leaves it up to you to decide if this is merely tragic or thoroughly laughable. And since I didn't know much of anything of this movie going in, that's where I was left at and unsure what was coming next.

See, since my quest to remain spoiler-free on things has bled into all aspects of my media consumption (FOX's post-episode teasers for 24 many years ago started giving too much away for my taste), now I don't watch previews for any shows or movies if I can avoid it. It's best decision I ever made for enjoying stories fresh, especially movies and television shows since the promoters of these are the worst offenders. Mostly I just go by word of mouth recommendations and scanning articles from a bevy of trusted sites I have on my feed reader these days. So, I really didn't know much about this movie before hitting the play button aside from a vague remembrance of some website I trusted mentioning it. I can't recall which site that was or even if they actually liked it now, but I decided over a year ago I had to see it. And many moons later, here we are.

What probably kept my interest in 44 Inch Chest high for over a year was probably its who's who of older, standout British actors dominating the cast. The cuckolded Colin is just a sweaty, drunken mess as interpreted by Ray Winstone. Meanwhile, his associates -- all of whom are implied or shown to be engaged in various forms of illegal and/or unsavory behavior amid the London underworld -- decide to help cheer him up by kidnapping his wife's young philanderer in broad daylight in order for Colin to enact his revenge. And when your friends are Tom Wilkinson, Ian McShane, John Hurt and Stephen Dillane, each spouting off some of the most imaginative foul language ever to be uttered in the history of English while boasting with veracity of the violence they intend to administer to the Loverboy. And I can't neglect to mention the small, but key role of the philandering wife played by Joanne Whalley, Val Kilmer's ex-wife who looks a lot better than Val Kilmer does these days (I will take any opportunity I can to make use of that picture).

Regrettably, the story of 44 Inch Chest fails to live up to the pedigree of its cast.

That's not to say there aren't wonderful moments of bombastic vulgarity and black humor that will induce a deep belly laugh from you that come close to redeeming it's missteps. No, the downfall of the film comes when it succumbs to the temptation of explaining away a man's anger over being cuckolded via hallucination and it turns out that those fantastic boasts are nothing more than that, since the final decision regarding the Loverboy was... disappointing, to say the least.

Although the movie was not successful as a whole, I still love each of the five criminals on display here and would absolutely welcome watching their early or further adventures again. Their underworld exploits would put just about anything someone like Guy Ritchie could ever dream up. Not that that idea has a bloody chance in hell of happening, of course.

* - On a grammar nazi note, it is killing me not to slap a hyphen between "44" and "Inch," but that's the official title of the film, as far as I could discern. Sadly, those in charge of it did not feel it was necessary to hyphenate what is, to me, clearly a compound modifier of "Chest." As a student of AP Style, I find this perturbing. Maybe it's a British thing? Regardless, I frown upon it. (Phew! I feel better now that I got that out.)

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