'Minnesota': next time with feeling Review: One woman creates sibling rivalry gone awry in a random, Tarantino-wannabe tale of losers.

September 13, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

To begin with, I have no idea what the title means, either.

But on the whole, "Feeling Minnesota" is a case of things to do in St. Paul when you're dead. It's like an imitation of Quentin Tarantino's lesser imitators, a quirky examination of small-time losers with too many guns and not enough IQ points.

It seems like a kind of loopy retelling of the Cain and Abel story, two loopy brothers who love and hate each other so much they can't deny that murder's in the air, and when a beautiful woman comes between them, it gets really thick.

The movie begins on one of those self-consciously zany notes of grotesque violence so beloved of Papa Tarantino, whose spirit hovers throughout this film like a vapor of hair spray. A brutish black man and his henchman chase a fleeing bride across a rail yard, rough her up, spray saliva on her face in their anger and muddy her white gown; then they take her to her wedding. You're thinking: What a nutty movie!

The rationale swiftly develops. The black guy (played by the great Delroy Lindo) is a small-time St. Paul vice lord and, presumably, Freddie (Cameron Diaz) was his mistress; his frowzy accountant Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio) caught her skimming off the top and as the worst punishment he can imagine, the vice lord has given Freddie to the lonely, nerdish number cruncher as his wife. This sounds like slavery to me: Where are Lewthwaite and Kane when you need them?

The wedding, which is held together by Lindo's aura of intense physical force, is like a geek chorus, filmed by young writer-director Steven Baigelman to resemble the works of Diane Arbus, with surrealistic banality creeping into every frame. And who should show up but long-lost brother Jjaks (I can't figure that name out either, but he's played by a surly, unshaven Keanu Reeves) who immediately takes a shine to the bride and vice versa; they make love in the toilet. Then he goes to rob a gas station to buy a wedding gift. Finally, the boys' mother -- Tuesday Weld (Tuesday Weld!) -- drops dead. That's in the first five minutes.

The movie more or less follows that pattern as it tracks the trajectory of these loose cannons around the deck of the Gopher State. It's a case of one damn thing after another, driven by the complete lack of impulse control of all the regulars. The central issue is that old standby, the triangle.

Jjaks and Sam both love Freddie, but in different ways. Jjaks' love is pure, of the woman herself; Sam's is corrupt, the jailer's love for his prisoner and his sense of mastery derived therefrom. Why Jjaks and Sam decide when to take off when they do and not five minutes earlier or five minutes later is anybody's guess; it's just a case of random impulse, and even when they flee, they don't go very far, then they come back.

So the movie becomes an elaborate but not very interesting chase around the scabby suburbs of St. Paul, with most of the action coming to center on a $28-a-night no-tell motel and the diner that has to appear in every movie made by Tarantino or one of his acolytes. The waitress in the variant, by the way, is Courtney Love, not Courteney Cox, dammit!

This is a world of high stupidity, but, alas, that lack of intelligence also applies to the film itself. It's just not much smarter than its characters. It reiterates one of the lamest gags the movies ever came up with, which is the corpse that isn't dead. No one can tell this person isn't dead? They carry the body, they move the body, they place the body in the woods and cover it with leaves. No one ever noted the lack of rigor mortis and rot, and the presence of warmth. Duh! I don't think so.

It's not that the characters in "Feeling Minnesota" lack moral fiber or compass, although they do; it's that in and of themselves, they are not terribly fascinating. Evil, for example, is always interesting, as are virtue, heroism and weakness. Taken together, that's what we call the Human Condition. Stupidity and the sins that follow in its wake -- squalor, whimsy, laziness and random violence -- that's what we call the Human Reality. It's like a two-hour story on a crummy local news station.

'Feeling Minnesota'

Starring Keanu Reeves, Cameron Diaz and Vincent D'Onofrio

Directed by Steven Baigelman

Released by FineLine

Rated R (violence, sex, profanity)

Sun score ** 1/2

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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