Friday, August 13, 2010

Shattered (Icon/Lions’ Gate, 2007)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Shattered, billed as a tough, no-nonsense thriller built around the hoary old plot line of an ordinary (albeit pretty affluent) couple, Neil and Abby Randall (Gerard Butler and Maria Bello), who after about 20 minutes of almost unbearably saccharine exposition (it’s learned that he is an advertising executive who’s in a cutthroat race for a promotion against a colleague and is giving himself an unfair hands-up by stealing his colleague’s ideas, and she’s a former photographer who’s getting restive and beginning to regret her decision to quit her career to be a full-time housewife and mother) are depicted as going out separately, she to a girlfriend for some party time and he to a presentation for a potential agency client out in the middle of nowhere. They’re startled when, in their SUV, they’re suddenly accosted by a gun-waving psycho in the back seat; he’s Tom Ryan (Pierce Brosnan, top-billed and also listed as “executive producer,” which could mean anything from he had a hand in developing the property, or he had nothing to do with the film besides acting in it but was a big enough star to demand the “executive producer” credit and the extra fee that came with it), who says he has their daughter captive.

At first Tom comes off as a mercenary kidnapper who’s researched the Randalls in depth, knows exactly how much money they have in their bank account and demands it all as a ransom. Neil at first tries to put him off with a lie — he says he has only $90,000 when in fact he has $142,000 and change, and Tom knows it — but eventually the Randalls extract their life savings, put it in a metal box and hand it to Tom, who abruptly sets fire to it (“I literally have money to burn,” he says, in one of the many weird jokes that adorn William Morrissey’s script) and throws the briefcase with the flaming cash stash out of the car and into the water while they’re on a bridge. Things get worse for Our Hero and Heroine when Tom announces that “for the next 24 hours, I’m God” and that he’s doing this to test the idea that people will do anything to rescue their kids from danger, no matter how humiliating. He assigns both Abby and Neil to deliver mysterious packages for him, telling Neil it’s a cache of secret documents he stole from a competitor that will finish him in the advertising business if he’s discovered having had them — he lets Neil use his cell phone to tell Abby not to deliver the envelope, but she insists that they have to follow all Tom’s orders and delivers it anyway. Later, when it’s Neil’s turn to hand over the mysterious package (a box instead of an envelope this time) Neil opens the package and finds out it’s empty.

Tom sets Neil up with a phony cell-phone call directing him to a hotel where their daughter’s baby-sitter, who’s supposedly a confederate in Tom’s plot, is supposedly holding her — only the only other person in the room is, of course, Tom himself. By the time Neil finally decides to go to the police, it doesn’t do any good because Tom has protected himself by forcing Abby to go into the same police station and explain that she’s leaving Neil for Tom, and therefore if Neil shows up and makes a complaint he’s just a jealous husband unwilling to accept her having left him, and the police should therefore ignore him — which they do. About 70 minutes into this 95-minute movie, we get the first of two plot reversals [spoiler alert!] which lead the film into its climax: Tom forces Neil to drive out to the secret hideout where he was supposed to meet the ad client — only the person actually there is Judy (Claudette Mink), Tom’s wife, with whom Neil has been having an affair. Somehow Tom found out about the affair, learned whom his wife was having it with, and hatched this whole kidnapping plot as revenge — and there’s a grim scene in which Tom orders Neil to shoot Judy or his daughter will die … and Neil actually pulls the trigger on his adulterous girlfriend, though of course the gun is empty. Then, with Neil thoroughly humiliated, writer Morrissey pulls a second reversal [double spoiler alert!] in which it turns out that Abby was in on the plot all along: both the people he was cuckolding were in league to humiliate him, and the daughter was never kidnapped at all — while the rest of the movie was going on she was fast asleep in her own bed at home. We see flashbacks to the previous plot incidents and find that the “money” Tom burned was one authentic bundle of cash and a lot of cut-up newspaper; the documents Abby was delivering that were supposedly going to destroy Neil’s career were blank; and the whole thing was a setup merely to make Neil miserable and wipe him out as a human being.

Shattered was originally called Butterfly on a Wheel — a reference to Alexander Pope’s poem “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,” which contains the line, “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” — and is that most frustrating of all bad movies, a bad movie that’s almost good. Produced by Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions and released by Lions’ Gate, Shattered was directed by Mike Barker — who shows a good grasp of the basics of suspense even though his best directorial efforts are repeatedly undercut by Morrissey’s script and Pierce Brosnan’s almost mechanical acting. Brosnan first achieved fame in the title character of the TV series Remington Steele and, of course, he had his greatest successes as James Bond — but as good as he was in those parts, he’s an extremely limited actor who apparently can only play that type of roguish hero. He’s utterly unbelievable as a villain — one can’t help but wish Sean Connery, the first Bond and by far the rangiest actor who’s ever played 007 (though Daniel Craig might give him some competition in that department), could have played this part about three decades ago: the role demands Connery’s edgy intensity and gets instead Brosnan’s odd gruffness.

For an unmotivated psycho — which is what we’re supposed to believe for the first 75 minutes — he certainly doesn’t seem to be having much fun terrorizing his presumably innocent victims, and when Morrissey fires his reversals at them none of the three principals are skilled enough actors to make them convincing. Shattered was a decent movie but it wasn’t much better than the common run of similar movies on Lifetime — indeed, one I saw there, Trapped, had a similar plot line (though in that one the kidnapping was for real) and was also a movie-movie with stars of at least some reputation (Charlize Theron, Courtney Love, Stuart Townsend and Kevin Bacon) and a theatrical release; I hadn’t cared for Trapped when I saw it in a bowdlerized version I recorded off Lifetime but compared to Shattered it looked like a masterpiece!