Dead Man Down is such a meaningless, innocuous title that it barely even sounds like a movie title at all. It sounds like a subtitle, and if you kept up with the crap movies of 2012, I’ve got the perfect title/subtitle mash up for this movie: Alex Cross 2: Dead Man Down. Of course, that’s not to suggest that feels like a direct sequel. It’s more like a tonal and thematic follow up that manages to recapture the magical combination of convoluted plotting, comatose directing, mismanaged stars, and an endless supply of idiocy. Of course, it’s not quite as entertaining in its trainwreck spectacle as Alex Cross, but then how many sequels ever live up to the original?
As the posters and trailer constantly remind us, Colin Farrell stars in the film as the right hand man of Terrence Howard’s sharply dressed crime lord. It’s never clear what Howard actually does in the crime world other than look good, bark orders, and have some vague connection to real estate, but this isn’t exactly a tightly scripted piece of work where that sort of thing matters.
Howard is currently in a bit of a tizzy since someone keeps sending him disturbing notes and cut up photos while killing off his henchmen and disrupting his mysterious business. For some reason Farrell is the only one he considers trustworthy, which is a shame because it’s revealed almost instantly that Farrell is actually the one responsible for all the killing and mind-fuckery. Then just to add a little more convoluted confusion to the tangled narrative, Noomi Rapace is tossed into the mix as a former beautician horribly scarred by a car accident who lives across the street from Farrell and makes goo-goo eyes at him constantly. Eventually they meet and it turns out Rapace isn’t actually looking to get lucky. She saw Farrell murder a man in his apartment, filmed it on her phone, and uses it as blackmail to force Farrell into murdering the man who wrecked her face. So now he’s got to do that murder in addition to all the other murders he had planned. Geez, how stressful is that?
Yep, Dead Man Down is one of those convoluted thrillers that inexplicably draws in A-list talent with a Swiss cheese script. My guess is that everyone signed up because directing duties were assigned to Dutch export Niels Arden Oplev (who provided the original and possibly even rapier version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). The only trouble there is that Oplev was never that good and not even particularly well versed in crafting crime thrillers before he ended up in charge of adapting that inexplicably popular novel.
Oplev does know how to set up a nice looking shot and cast Noomi Rapace, though, and that’s pretty well all he brings to Dead Man Down. The story’s so ludicrous it’s impossible to take it seriously. The only reason the entire plot is set into motion is the ludicrous coincidence of Rapace and Farrell living across the street from each other and the plot holes only get bigger from there. For a while, you’ll watch the movie scratching your head while trying to pull the pieces together thinking that the filmmakers are two steps ahead of you in the complex crime mystery that they’re weaving. Then around 20-30 minutes in it becomes clear that it’s just bad, half-baked writing that is confusing and there will be no pay off to tie all the dangling threads together.
The saddest part of slugging through Dead Man Down is watching just how rough the performances are from actors who should be better. Howard doesn’t so much play a character as he pulls a series of tough guy poses out of his closet hoping that he can intimidate the audience into thinking he’s a decent villain (it doesn’t work, by the way). Farrell is fine since he’s got an ability to ground nearly any role, but he’s stuck with one distracting affectation that kills his performance. He plays a Hungarian character trying to fake a New York accent. That would be tough for any actor to pull off and it’s made infinitely worse by the fact that Farrell has a heavy Irish accent he has to cover up on top of all that. So the character speaks in a collection of New York, Irish, and Hungarian sounds that is inadvertently hilarious. I’m not sure who thought that would be a good idea, but hopefully they were fired before the film wrapped.
Then there’s Noomi Rapace who’s easily the best actor of the pack, not that you’d know it from this movie. She’s stuck playing a character with only two emotional states: innocent naïf and blood-thirsty vengeance seeker. She’s good at nailing those two tones, but after one scene of each her character gets very boring, very quickly and never recovers. It’s also worth noting that Isabelle Huppert pops up as Rapace’s semi-deaf mother. However, that’s only worth mentioning for two reasons: 1) because it’s a complete waste of her time and talent and 2) because in the magical world of Dead Man Down somehow a French mother can have a child with a heavy Dutch accent. Not sure how or why that’s the case. That’s just the level of stupid slathered all over the movie.
Thankfully there are a handful of bright spots in the overall disaster. While Oplev may prove to be a failure as a storyteller, he does whip up two fairly fantastic action scenes in the movie (one involving Farrell acting as a secret sniper against his own crew and a shootout finale that kicks off with Farrell driving a truck into a house at full speed). The set pieces work well because they are all based in stunt men, choreography, and pyrotechnics over CGI. The only trouble is that when the audience can’t even pretend to care about the characters in an action scene, the spectacle tends to slip by without much impact.
Dead Man Down is a big fat mess of a movie made by people who really should know better. Given the talent involved, you’d expect a crime movie that stretches beyond the limitations of the genre. Yet, the drivel that was produced can’t even deliver on even the most basic possible crime movie expectations. Expect this thing to disappear from theaters and into the deepest, darkest corners of Netflix almost instantly. Do yourself a favor and don’t end up being one of the lonely few who make the mistake of buying one of the movie’s few sold tickets before it vanishes.