Friday, May 19, 2017

The Quickie (Pyramid, Pandora, Monarch, 2001)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Our “feature” last night was The Quickie, an oddball movie from 2001 produced by the German companies Pyramid and Pandora Films (and released on DVD by an outfit called Monarch), shot in the U.S. with two American stars but written and directed by a Russian, Sergey Bodrov (though he had help with the actual screenplay from one Carolyn Cavallero), and very Russian not only in its personnel (the male lead is played by an actor named Vladimir Mashkov) but its general mood. I had hoped from the video box that this would be a kinky thriller in which a good-time girl played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (who’s billed second in the credits but first on the DVD box) has a casual one-night stand with a Russian mobster and then is chased by both the police and the mobster’s gangland enemies on the idea that he might have told her something incriminating while he was fucking her. Instead Mashkov plays Oleg, a disillusioned and world-weary Russian mobster who lives in a big and horrendously overdecorated house in Malibu (though it was “played” by Hermosa Beach, probably because the licensing fees were cheaper) that we virtually never leave during the entire 99-minute running time. He’s planning to turn the whole mob business over to his brother Alex (Henry Thomas), who couldn’t care less — all Alex wants to do is go for a career as a concert pianist (Oleg has brought in a piano for him to practice on but it’s wretchedly out-of-tune — we hear him, or rather his piano double Sasha Adler, play the “Tonight We Love” opening of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and we notice the piano is out of tune, and later dialogue establishes that as a deliberate plot point), while their third brother Deema (played by Sergey Bodrov, Jr. — Bodrov was not content to co-produce, co-write and direct this film had to put his son in it as well, and the imdb.com page on Bodrov fils notes that a year after making this movie he died in an avalanche in Russia, while Bodrov père is still alive) has the unctuous look of a Republican politician and does want to inherit the illegal enterprises his brother wants to give up. Alex has surrounded himself with prostitutes, many of whom we see topless (this film got an “R”-rating from both the breast exposure and the constant F-bombs the characters are dropping — oddly, it was shot in the old-fashioned 4:3 aspect ratio and only the topless scenes and incessant “fucks” in the dialogue distinguish it from a TV-movie), but he also gets the hots for Lisa Powell (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who’s got her own set of problems.

She’s living in a trailer that’s parked in an encampment in an old parking lot in downtown L.A. (Charles looked askance at this plot twist because he pointed out that any available space in downtown L.A. for a parking lot would be used as such instead of being abandoned and turned into an al fresco trailer park), and all we really know about her at first is she has a six-year-old daughter who’s in foster care but she’s given up on ever getting her daughter back from the child protective services system. We don’t even know she’s gainfully employed until about midway through the film, when her plotline and Oleg’s finally intersect; Oleg has noticed that his mansion is infested with cockroaches (we get extreme close-ups of a few of them and I was surprised the final credits didn’t list a “cockroach wrangler”) and he calls in an exterminator — and Jennifer Jason Leigh dutifully shows up driving a mini-van with “Western States Exterminators” painted on the side. She’s dressed in a cute brown uniform that does a good job of showing her ass — she looks considerably better in exterminator drag than she does in the too-big black dress Oleg dresses her in later for their titular “quickie.” Also in the dramatis personae are Lesley Ann Warren as Anna, who’s supposed to be Oleg’s, Alex’s and Deema’s mother but looks the same age as Oleg (this is one of those maddening movies in which the characters supposedly playing members of the same family look too dissimilar to be believable as genetic relations); the Venezuelan (or was he Colombian? I forget) gigolo she’s just married; and a guy in a wheelchair that gives a voice-over narration throughout the film and wins the house and the beach property it’s on in a card game with Oleg.

Oleg’s disillusion with the whole idea of life is summed up in a scene in which he invites one of the prostitutes to his bedroom and announces that he’s going to bet her fee, double or nothing, by playing Russian roulette: she’s supposed to bet whether he lives or dies, and she bets he’ll die. He lives and takes back the money he was supposed to pay her. (Both Charles and I thought she should have bet that he’d live: if he’d lived he would have given her the money, and if he’d died she could have taken it anyway.) The other thing that happens is that Oleg gets a call warning him that rival mobsters in Moscow have taken out a hit on him, and at first he suspects Lisa might be the hit person. Then Anna’s South American boyfriend offers to put his people in charge of Oleg’s security and they take over his house, and he thinks they might be the hit squad — so Oleg escapes his own house by hiding out in Lisa’s van as she leaves. Only, as anyone who’s seen Prizzi’s Honor could probably have guessed, Lisa is the hit person who’s out to kill him — I guess Bodrov couldn’t resist the pun of having her be an “exterminator” in both senses of the word — and the two have a final confrontation on the beach. He tosses a coin and calls heads, and it lands on heads, therefore giving her his rather twisted consent to complete her job and ending this weirdly unsatisfying movie on the expected downer note. The Quickie comes off like The Godfather would have if Dostoyevsky had written it: for something that’s supposed to be a crime thriller there’s virtually no action, and that house in Malibu gets as oppressive to us as it is to the characters, while the movie is so full of world-weariness and angst we also feel as trapped in it as Oleg does. It’s one of those frustrating bad movies that seemed to have a good movie locked up inside it and struggling to get out, and it also suffers from an all too common problem with modern films: there’s no one in the dramatis personae we actually like.