Blunder & Bluster Make THE OUTSIDER More Than A Bit Confusing
Mar 10, 2014
I love a good thriller as much as the next (online) critic. Seriously, I do. What’s practically universal about thrillers is that they can be accomplished on practically any budget; the only real requirement is that the script and performances all work to serve whatever that central conceit of the plot is that makes the project a thriller. Then … viola! Instant success! (Well, maybe not ‘instant’ success, but you get the idea.) What tears these films apart at the celluloid seams is when either the cast has little-to-no chemistry in pitching the narrative OR the underlying theme or idea isn’t developed to the point where tension is even modestly created. If that’s the case, then all the audience is left with are the action sequences, so they’d better be sharp or else there’s nothing to see here.
When all else fails, I suppose you could cast some big screen muscleman and pair him alongside some aging cinema legend as the villain. It may not be original, but it might make you a few bucks from the video stores.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Lex Walker (played by big screen muscleman Craig Fairbrass) quits his merc-for-hire status in Afghanistan once he hears his only daughter has turned up dead in the United States. However, once he shows up in the City of Angels to identify her remains, he comes to learn that the morgue’s body isn’t hers. Suspecting that she’s gone missing, Walker follows the trail back to her former boss, Schuuster (played by aging cinema legend James Caan); and through a few other twists of fate the solder joins forces with a streetwise Detective Mike Klein (Jason Patric) when it looks like Most Industries is actually a front corporation for the mob stealing identities. As it turns out, Samantha Walker (a lovely but curiously monotone Melissa Ordway) is alive, which only means she and dear ol’ dad will have to bring down corporate America or die trying!
See how that works?
If it sounds convoluted, that’s probably because it is. Writer/director Brian A. Miller even found time to turn up in his very own picture as the morgue examiner who can’t explain why the dead girl’s body isn’t Walker’s daughter after all; maybe he should’ve written himself a larger role and given the directing duties to someone else because so very much of THE OUTSIDER feels like it was all conceived, shot, and directed on auto-pilot. Nothing makes perfect sense (for example, Det. Klein hassles Lex Walker for “tearing up a nightclub” that [A] wasn’t torn up and [B] was more of a corner pub than it was a nightclub), giving the entire affair an overall feeling of creative laziness on everyone’s part.
There’s no consistently driving motivation for so very much of what Fairbrass – as the lead – has to convey. At first, it looks like this might be a revenge picture (the angry father getting back at those who killed his little girl), but we’re little more than fifteen minutes into the film when we discover he hasn’t followed the details close enough to know that he actually has to go to Los Angeles to recover the body. Later on – when he discovers it wasn’t even her that turned up dead – he finally shows a bit of passion; yet he spends too much time just beating on people out of instinct than he does from actually making a coherent decision for anyone who’s watching closely to believe that the actor is doing anything more than following a script.
Lastly, what has happened in James Caan’s career to make him the ‘go-to-guy’ for the small picture heavy? I certainly understand that there probably aren’t all that many roles being deliberately crafted for men of his seasoned age (notice I didn’t say “old”), but are writers and directors and producers seriously all that interested in casting the same faces in such stereotypical creations? I would think that such a choice might only serve to derail something as ambitious as a major motion picture production, but, then again, I don’t work in Tinseltown: I only write about it.
THE OUTSIDER (2014) is produced by Zero Gravity Management and Hollywood Media Bridge. DVD distribution is being handled by Image Entertainment. As for the technical specifications? Image Entertainment’s releases are very smartly crafted releases, and this one is no exception; the sights and sounds are very good, but Fairbrass’s accent (and/or muddled speech) is so thick I had to use the accompanying English subtitles to understand what he said half the time. As is often the case when these smaller films find eventual release, there are no special features to speak of … not that the flick really required ‘em, either.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. Look, there’s no one who likes a great low-budget, high-concept thriller than I do, but so much of THE OUTSIDER feels like it should’ve been left outside. Writer/director Brian A. Miller fails to craft a compelling story, and far too much of the piece feels as if everyone is going through the motions, just trying to get by, and earn a paycheck. To worsen things, there’s so little action in any of this that no one’s adrenaline – not even the players – ever rises to the occasion. I suppose as a one-off feature it’s all well and good; it’s just that with so many guns featuring prominently on the box art, wouldn’t you think more people would’ve used them?
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment provided me with an advance DVD copy of THE OUTSIDER by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.