'Malone' Certainly Gave Me Hell -- Film Review

Directed by: Russell Mulcahy, Runtime: 96 minutes
Grade: D

Freeze any frame in Give 'Em Hell Malone and you've got a live-action version of a panel from any number of stylish neo-noir graphic novels, inked with bold coloring and sporting boisterous characters. Attach a stream of one-liners and moody descriptors in speech boxes above their heads, and a decent page-flipper might come out of the dust. In motion, however, this Russell Mulcahy-directed film plays out with nerve-grating bluntness, sketching out wooden characters that only deliver clichéd one-liners. Bullets fly, smoke fumes, and a swarm of big, bad iconic villains surround the protagonist, but the middling vintage façade and bothersome script detract from what little visceral delight could be scooped from this flick. Quite simply, it's just trying too damn hard.

Fedora hats, '50s Buicks, and almost every other noir-like cliché you can imagine wedge into this mash-up of classic cool and modern style, a story that's mostly lingering about just so the director and actors have an excuse to throw out colloquialisms and posture themselves rightly. It follows rambling ex-P.I. Malone, played by Punisher and Deep Blue Sea gruff man Thomas Jane, as he scrambles to obtain a briefcase from a hotel that contains "the meaning of love" -- not exactly unlike the mysterious briefcase in Pulp Fiction. After he's actually obtained it, through a rain of bullets and a spin art show of blood spurts, he discovers that local mob boss Whitmore (Gregory Harrison) has particular interest in the mysterious item within the briefcase. In order to get "the meaning of love" back from Malone, Whitmore sends along his full arsenal of henchman to eliminate our dick with an attitude.

Even though we're dished a few twists in the narrative and a glimpse into Malone's mythos as cold, heart-pulling brute, there seems to be only one real point behind the moody, Spokane-shot Give 'Em Hell Malone: to pit cartoon-style villains, including the likes of the stone-faced strong arm "Boulder" (Ving Rhames), Asian blade-hurling villainess "Mauler" (Chris Yen), and torched pyromaniac "Matchstick" (Don Hutchinson), against the traditional booze-guzzling brawler of a hero in a fit of kitschy live-action violence with graphic novel mannerisms. What it tries to do is pull off a hybrid action / noir flick with the sensibilities of Robert Rodriguez's Sin City and Frank Miller's The Spirit, while adamantly pushing to be a singular picture that harks more to a substantial film noir structure -- complete with reflective dialogue from Malone and a saucy, red trenchcoat-wearing femme fatale (Elsa Pataky) to play with his mental state.

However, Give 'Em Hell Malone brazenly relishes in its own mannerisms on-screen as more of a literal, Cliffnotes version of film noir, navigating under the impression that the chaotic characters, garish violence, and stilted faux mood are enough to power the experience forward. Yet, they simply come across as eccentricities that are there for the sake of being, well, eccentric, crafting an absolute tonal mess out of their surroundings that's vying for entertainment value instead of mood consistency. This is especially frustrating considering the comically stiff delivery of splintered, annoyingly familiar one-liners from all the mugs and dames gallivanting about, a fumbled tactic aimed at grasping a time-honored mood. Film noir, in itself, is a slick and stylish medium, and this feels more like a multihued imitation constructed as little more than a carnival for mayhem.

The biggest issue with Mulcahy's film, and, probably more fitting, with Mark Hosack's script, comes in translating this comic-driven composition into a feature film, something we've seen done to both excellent and poor degrees over the past decade. A clear vein of creativity lies underneath Malone's construction, even down to Thomas Jane's Richard Windmark/Edmond O'Brien-wannabe detective, but the way they mingle with the tone of the picture and the purposefully bold dialogue comes off as comical instead of rewarding. Our impressions on Malone's mother as a nurse-like, bat-brained bullet puller in her nursing home and the surprisingly Joker-like sadist manner of the leather-skinned "Matchstick" crying out "Malonesy, Malonesy, Malonesy" should lean towards adrenaline-fueled enthusiasm, yet they mostly just aggravate in their blatant silliness. They carry us between scenes of a violent nature involving guns, cars, and fists with enough tension, I suppose, but they also leave a sour taste in the mouth when their potential fritters away underneath a cloak of cinematic indulgence.

Which, to be frank, the action ain't compelling enough either to give it ample purpose. Everything seen in the film's well-executed trailer pretty much encapsulates the most of Give 'Em Hell Malone's precision as a hyper-stylized actioner, giving us one semi-satisfying shootout in a claustrophobic apartment at the beginning and leaving us dissatisfied from thereon out. The remaining shootouts are lazily unenergetic, the fistfights bland. Again, we see several satisfying elements that incite our senses -- a pyro with a taste for kerosene-infused hostility, a tricky Asian assassin who hides blades in all forms of orifices, and highlight of the show Ving Rhames rehashing a suited version of his badass role in Pulp Fiction with a spritz of Wilson Fisk-like attitude for good measure -- yet they're all sloppily interwoven into sequences that are dissatisfying and absurd, even for a picture that knows it's a form of fantasy.


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