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Tribeca 2012: Freaky Deaky

The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 18th to April 29th. Jeff Hart and Jeremiah White are there and will be seeing a shitload of movies.

A few summers ago I read the Elmore Leonard novel that Freaky Deaky is based on. I didn't remember this until the film started rolling along; the novel is one of Leonard's lesser works, not particularly memorable, and definitely not something I'd have pegged for adaptation. Charles Matthau, who last directed the 2005 Estella Warren virginity comedy Her Minor Thing, and who wrote, directed, and produced Freaky Deaky, obviously must have felt differently about the strength of the source material. Or maybe Freaky Deaky was just the only Leonard novel with film rights available cheap.

Set in 70s Detroit (although you wouldn’t know it), Freaky Deaky begins with detective Chris Mankowski (Billy Burke, playing it straight) investigating sexual assault accusations against a drug-addled trust fund baby (Crispin Glover, playing it like farce) and his embittered younger brother (Andy Dick, playing it like Andy Dick). This brings Mankowski into contact with Donnell Lewis (Michael Jai White, playing it like faux-exploitation), a former Black Panther now acting as bodyguard for the wealthy rapist. Meanwhile, Robin and Skip (Breanne Racano and Christian Slater), a pair of radicals with a history of blowing things up, set out to blackmail some money out of the rich brothers that wronged them years ago.

All that sounds pretty good as far as caper setups go. We’ve got a bunch of colorful characters all with conflicting goals. One only needs to look as far as the just wrapped season of Justified to see how brilliantly that system can work in the right hands. Unfortunately, Matthau flubs it pretty much every step of the way, directing a cast that seem uniformly confused through a script devoid of tension.

Thinking back on the novel, most of what’s interesting about Leonard’s work is stripped out of the film version. In particular, I remember main antagonist Robin feeling much more dangerous. In the novel, she’s a former radical with a sociopathic drive for revenge, constantly using her sexuality as a weapon. In the film, she wears a lot of sexy 70s inspired outfits, but Racano’s performance lacks any real menace.

Robin’s partner in crime Skip was my favorite part of the novel, mostly thanks to his colorful background. He’s a stuntman/director working in Detroit’s thriving 70s B-movie scene. When Matthau references the motor city B-movie scene, which would be a real interesting place to set a movie, it’s in passing and looks pretty much identical to 70s Hollywood.

In fact, Matthau doesn’t make much effort to capture the mood of 70s Detroit at all. The politics of the era – these former radicals ostensibly trying to go straight, even though it’s via blackmail and bombs – one of the more unique angles of Leonard’s novel, go unexplored. Really, you could’ve told me Freaky Deaky took place in the present day and outside of the boner for retro clothes most of these characters have, I’d be none the wiser. Maybe Matthau’s director of photography was under the impression this was a present day flick; there are new model cars visible in the background of some shots, not that there’s much illusion to shatter. It all seems as amateur as something Skip would direct, but with way fewer explosions.

Freaky Deaky eventually limps to a conclusion that actually manages to be less exciting on the big screen that it is on the page. It’s an adaptation sure to disappoint hardcore Leonard fans and bore everyone else.

VERDICT:  Skip it.

I wish this was out of sight.

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