No one plots out a solid caper better than Elmore Leonard. On television, audiences have been won over by Leonard’s creation of Raylan Givens on FX’s stellar JUSTIFIED program, and, from what I’ve read, even Leonard himself from time-to-time contributes with notes to the writing and production staff. It wasn’t all that long back when John Travolta kicked his career back into gear by starring in the Leonard-inspired GET SHORTY. Even Quentin Taratino has taken a stab at converting a Leonard novel (“Rum Punch”) to celluloid (JACKIE BROWN), so you know you’re in good company when you’re working from the inspiration of the master.
Unfortunately, FREAKY DEAKY has more misses than hits, but, as a whole, it’s still a pleasant enough experience to give it a thumbs up … just not a very enthusiastic one.
(NOTE: The following review may contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
It’s 1974, and devil-may-care homicide sergeant Chris Mankowski (played by Billy Burke) has been suspended. It seems he went after the rich, drunk, but powerful Woody Ricks (Crispin Glover in a role better suited for Andy Dick, who, interestingly enough, appears briefly as Woody’s brother); and the mayor demands Mankowski’s suspension. But – as fate and circumstance would have it – the cop stays on-the-case because he’s not the only one after Ricks for his money; an ex-fugitive named Robin Abbott (a comely Breanne Racano), her bumbling bomb-maker Skip Gibbs (Christian Slater), and Ricks’ own assistant Donnell Lewis (Michael Jai White) are working in tandem for a slice of the cool $50 million, if they can survive long enough to stake their claim!
This is a caper – not a very convincing one – at best that relies on a certain bit of lunacy in order to make it all believable. For the most part, the talent hits their marks, but methinks these are the kinds of characters and situations that work sublimely in written form and, for whatever reason, lose some of their translation when being prepared for the silver screen. For example, there’s an ongoing bit about Ricks’ bombed out vehicle parked in the front yard (why haven’t they ever had it removed?) that probably delivered in spades in the novel; however writer/director/producer Charles Matthau didn’t milk it for any points in his film. Instead, he leaves it there, figuring it’ll get laughs all by itself. Unfortunately, that misses the mark (by a mile) dramatically because much of the charm of a sight gag is actually having characters react to it.
That’s how so very much of FREAKY DEAKY proceeds, doing itself more harm when it should’ve been harmless.
Also, there are a handful of minor subplots – these peoples dubious 70’s-inspired flirtation with drugs, Ricks’ obvious predilection for wearing neon-colored tuxedoes daily, and the zaniness of two bombers never quite bombing their intended target – that either needed greater exploration or greater exploitation. This causes me to believe it was a failure of the script, and, given that Matthau apparently had control over every aspect of the flick, I’d have to pin the blame there. What comes off as a modestly entertaining caper coulda-woulda-shoulda been better, especially given the subtle chemistry of Burke versus White, White versus the doe-eyed Greta Wyatt (Sabina Gadecki), and Gadecki versus Burke. It had the makings of a great triangle – not love, per se, but crime – and it should’ve elevated the picture to something greater.
Alas, it was a FREAKY DEAKY near-miss.
FREAKY DEAKY is produced by The Matthau Company and Final Cut Productions. DVD distribution is being handled by Entertainment One (E One). As for the technical specifications, it looks and sounds about as solid as the next direct-to-DVD release; there were a few sequences with some hard-to-hear audio, but it didn’t impact the overall picture. Understandably so, the disc is light on special features; there’s a making-of short and the theatrical trailer, but that’s all she wrote, folks.
MODESTLY RECOMMENDED. FREAKY DEAKY is no monumental failure, nor anywhere near it. There’s enough life in a few characters here to make this an acceptable rental – or some one-off Friday or Saturday night viewing experience. It’s just that for a film inspired by the novels of Elmore Leonard it barely feels like a film inspired by the novels of Elmore Leonard. Instead, it feels like an Elmore Leonard wannabe – not quite fully fleshed out for the discerning viewer but just enough taste to rope-a-dope the audience. Hats off to Billy Burke, Sabina Gadecki, and (especially) Michael Jai White, as I’d love to see them re-team in something a bit superior.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Entertainment One (EOne) provided me an advance DVD screener of FREAKY DEAKY for the expressed purposes of completing this review.