A crude, unconvincing comedy about a boisterous safecracker, out to claim his reward after twelve years in prison to protect his boss.
No one likes a comedy that isn’t funny. There is some unspoken law, an unwritten edict, that it is better to make a terrible drama than it is to make a terrible comedy. In the former, you can appreciate the sentiment, commend them for their intent, and pardon some pretty heinous (though not all) acts of bad filmmaking. However, when you’re stuck for 90+ minutes watching one bad joke after another, we all suddenly become far less tolerant. For whatever reason, you don’t get brownie points for not being funny, no matter how hard you try.
But perhaps that is the fatal flaw in Dom Hemingway, Richard Shepard‘s latest indie comedy–it was trying too hard. Allegedly, the movie is a raunchy comedy about a convicted (and socially demented) safecracker, recently released from a twelve year prison stint as he seeks to receive compensation for keeping his mouth shut. Yet from the opening scene, where Jude Law recites an impromptu Song of Solomon to the glory of his penis, the film reveals itself only as a visual record of failing humor–the jokes are offensive, crude, and often blindingly stupid.
One is almost tempted to blame Law for this extended thespian ego-trip, seeming to relish his own personal two dimensional madman. That would be the case, if it weren’t for his self-conscious performance throughout. With every clever insult, every fist fight, and every act of screaming defiance against the world at large, the character seems less and less plausible. Law seems to lose momentum as the film continues, or at least the gaps in his performance become increasingly obvious. The bottom line is that Dom’s character doesn’t suit Law from the beginning, (who otherwise is a pretty good actor), and the role may have been better if played by another actor.
This brings us to the film’s second major problem: its melodramatic, bipolar plot line. The blame can’t be laid entirely on Law when the writing is so poor and the story so contrived. The whole thing is about a no-good scoundrel who sees the error of his ways and reforms, yet his sincerity is never convincing, either before or after the transformation. While some of the jokes were quite funny, and some of the dialogue good (particularly when Dom confronts a former employer), the movie is more concerned with convincing us of Dom’s insanity than developing anything else in the plot, to the point that it all became incredibly awkward.
Dom Hemingway suffers from multiple personality disorder, shifting back and forth between crude, thoughtless comedy and a sentimental morality play (a la John Bunyan). In one scene Dom is on the verge of attacking his former employer, ten minutes later he’s strutting naked through an apple orchard, to express how upset he was over his earlier actions. One scene he’s smashing goons in the face in the midst of a daring escape, the next he’s rolling on the ground in front of his wife’s grave as he indulges in an emotional breakdown. There was little tonal continuity, and the back-and-forth between debauchery and sentimentality was forced and artificial.
Much about the film feels like a crude parody of real life. One of the few enjoyable scenes is when Dom walks out of prison, streamers and toilet paper flying out of the windows behind him (think Zero de Conduit). The costuming is also one of the few positives of the film. Dom’s beautiful suit and crazy pointed elf boots leave a definite impression. Unfortunately, these odd stylistic perks don’t save Dom Hemingway from failure. It’s crude, affected, and worst of all, not funny.