MTV style isn't a good effect for `Domino'

Commentary

October 14, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Whether you call it attention-deficit-disorder filmmaking or MTV style, every time you think that show-off camera moves and ultra-staccato cutting set to rock and pop have disappeared, they spring up yet again - most egregiously in Domino, today's offbeat action-film premiere.

The auteur, Tony Scott, repeats the methods of his previous hit, Man on Fire (2004), where he became the Tilt-a-Whirl of directors. First he dizzied audiences with vertiginous camera angles and varying degrees of grain and color. Then he used every possible graphic element, including subtitles and place names, to pound home points that should have been obvious.

In Domino, an L.A./Vegas caper movie that encompasses the Mafia and reality TV, he weds those tactics to a script that's constantly flashing back and forth in time and to a heroine, a model-turned-bounty-hunter, who's little more than a glamorous conundrum. Scott's ploys for keeping the action edgy and arresting actually beat it to a standstill. The movie's hyperactive plot - and its superficial take on the daughter of Swingin' England movie star Laurence Harvey as a high-born adrenaline junkie drawn to the gutter - seem to unfold on a continuous loop.

What gets shredded is the human material. Scott was the real Domino Harvey's friend for more than a decade. But you can learn more about this late anti-heroine from the feature in the last Sunday Styles section of The New York Times than in this 128-minute movie. Scott's own anecdote about meeting her in the garage apartment of her mom's Hollywood spread (she wasn't allowed in the house with her firearms), then having "tea with Mum and the Jack Russells and the Francis Bacons on the wall," is defter and funnier than the script. Even the newspaper photos are more eloquent: portraits of her looking fresh and sullenly spunky at the start of her career, then drawn and jittery at the end of it, betray the true wages of fear.

As the director of Enemy of the State (1998) and a co-producer of TV's Numb3rs, Scott has proven that he can be lucid when he wants to be. For Domino he's chosen a reckless mix of fact and fiction and a smeary, impressionistic surface. He thinks they allow him to get closer to the soul of the woman he knew.

This sophisticated kind of self-delusion is more dangerous than the hack work of directors like Michael (Bad Boys II) Bay. When, by some fluke, haphazard fusions like Domino seem to work, their spirit can be catching.

I blame the persistence of the MTV style partly on the bizarre financial and critical success of the haywire musical Moulin Rouge. Before Baz Luhrmann's 2001 boy-meets-courtesan extravaganza, it looked as if ADD directing were on the wane, at least in prestige productions. But Luhrmann mustered an adolescent delirium from editing that jumped between one energy surge and the next, staging that exaggerated bodies in motion, and camera swings that turned a viewer's nervous system into a concertina.

Set in turn-of-the-century Montmartre, France, Moulin Rouge played like a gaudy outgrowth of an earlier generation's form of multitasking: flipping through a Classics Illustrated comic book while listening to Top 40 AM and peeking at Laugh-In on TV. There was occasionally something funny about the movie's Cuisinart approach to international pop culture, with Sting's "Roxanne" serving as the setting for a tango with the tone of an Apache dance. The movie generated more than $57 million at the U.S. box office alone, earned eight Oscar nominations (including for best picture) and won two. But the Day-Glo confetti style obliterated the heroic performances of stars Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.

Indeed, what this sort of style does to the actors is its prime obscenity. Scott has gathered a formidable cast for Domino, including Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Lucy Liu and Christopher Walken. But he lays waste to their full-bodied performances. He pays homage to them in the closing credits, with titles saluting them as "Mickey," "Lucy" and so on over the faces of their characters. You have to wonder whether the actors and the director are still on a first-name basis now that the stars have seen the movie.

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