Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fee Fi Foe Fum

At my age, CRAFT Syndrome (that is, Can't Remember a Fucking Thing) is an occasional nuisance. Enabling me today is Magnolia Pictures, which press-screened Mister Foe back in January, or maybe even late last year, and after at least two postponements releases it on tomorrow's dumping ground date. (It's also aired, as is customary with the Mark Cuban-owned distributor, on the magnate's HDNet Movies channel.) I'm not sure why: It wasn't going to be a huge grosser at this or any other date on the calendar, and it's not like the star, Billy Elliot-gone-teenage-gloomy Jamie Bell, was in anything hot earlier this year to give it a little clout at the arthouse. (There was the sch-fi picture Jumper, which came and went late winter, so whatever buzz that generated has dissipated.)

And there's the title: Hallam Foe in England, Mister Foe here. Why? Did focus groups think Mister would turn the tide of boxoffice fortune? What focus group could be enticed to see this pretty drab picture anyway? What about the more intriguing Foe? Or Fo, to fool anyone thinking it might be a biopic of anarchist playwright Dario Fo, or MoFo, giving it an urban edge?

And there's the problem. I will always remember the details of movies I like. But movies I don't like (and under any title Mister Foe is a muddle) tend to flush out of my memory banks pretty quickly. The co-adapter/director, David Mackenzie (working from a novel by Peter Jinks) made 2003's Young Adam, which hangs in there only because of a steamy (but not all that remarkable) sex scene between Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton, and 2005's less skinful Asylum was pretty much a straitjacket. (His next film, Spread, teams an unlikely Ashton Kutcher and Anne Heche.) The antipathy may be in my filmgoing DNA: Mackenzie gravitates toward lives of suffocation and neglect, and doesn't do much to make them less suffocating, or more interesting.

Mister Foe lets a little air in. The title sequence is animated, a friendly, frisky touch that sets up the off-kilter storyline. Seventeen-year-old Hallam (Bell) is somewhat unbalanced since the death of his mother, and has drifted into voyeurism, peeping in and out of the windows of fellow Scots (hence the odd camouflage) in the Highlands domicile of his father (Ciaran Hinds). He begins to suspect that his stepmother (Claire Forlani) may have done mom in--but he's also hotly attracted to her (understandably; Forlani, a decade after Meet Joe Black, is winsome). When things get too close for comfort Foe hightails to it Edinburgh, where he falls for hotel worker Kate (Sophia Myles), whose job gives him freer rein for his snooping. But Kate looks disconcertingly like his mother, upping the Oedipal tension and neuroticism as Mackenzie goes a little Hitchcockian, quoting Psycho and the like. But it's a less punitive film than those. It's also, unsurprisingly, not up to its sources, unable to find much comedy, drama, or mystery in its crossed wires despite a capable cast. It feels like a quirky novel that didn't quite escape the page, which adds to the general fog of forgetfulness I'm trying to dispel.

The website reminded me of one thing: Mister Foe has a decent, award-cited songtrack, Franz Ferdinand and the like. There are some good cuts here, and they vary, unlike the monotonous music of, say, Juno. So, OK, eight months or more later I can't remember too much about Mister Foe, except that I am not a friend to it. But I can hum you a few bars.

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