by Jay Seaver
To say that "The Lookalike" starts out kind of charming overlooks what happens in the first few minutes to set things in motion, but it still does well enough in introducing its cast of characters that it looks like the rare crime movie that makes quirky work despite being built a core of bad people doing bad things. That's hard to sustain for the full length of a movie, though, and this one starts losing steam early enough to be a real drag by the end.There's a girl out there, Sadie, that retiring crime boss William Spinks (John Savage) will pay half a million dollars to sleep with, and having found her, Bobby (John Corbett) and Frank (Steven Bauer) probably have the inside track to taking over his business. Except, well, they screwed up and she's no longer available. Meanwhile, one of Bobby's best dealers, former college hoops star Joe Mulligan (Jerry O'Connell) is looking to quit, having paid his father's gambling debts to Vincent (Luis Guzman), and although on the one hand he could use a little money to shoot that pilot for a cooking show, on the other he's just met a really nice girl, Mila (Scottie Thompson). Back at Joe's apartment, his brother Holt (Justin Long) has a run-in with Lacey (Gillian Jacobs), one of Joe's customers, and they connect. Of course, they're both hiding something as well.
"Looks like things could have gone better."
Writer Michele Davis-Gray shovels a fair amount of stuff into the script, sometimes to seeming excess - not only has Mila recently lost her hearing, but she's got a prosthetic leg, for example; she also just happens to cross paths with Sadie early on in a way that brings another player into the story. Oh, and Lacey is apparently a hairdo away from being a dead ringer for Sadie, which is kind of convenient. Still, in the early going, she and director Richard Gray (and the cast) make it work. Things may be in bad taste, but they'll come with a jolt, or the odd incongruities will amuse. Plus, the fact that Joe is far from the only character involved who really doesn't want to be in the business of hurting people may not push grimness away entirely, but the fact the characters have better natures does make things more fun and a bit unpredictable.
You can almost spot the exact moment when any sense of fun drains out of the movie as the characters stop doing things that are odd and individual and just start being cogs for the plot. It's not just that characters start getting killed, but it happens in such ordinary ways. Then, of course, things take an even darker turn, and it starts to feel less like characters getting in over their heads than a bait and switch, like the filmmakers hadn't been avoiding outright meanness earlier on but saving it up so that the audience could come out unsatisfied but without feeling like this was done in service to something bigger than the caper they came for.
When they're given something to work with, the cast does all right, although there's no one of them that grabs the film and makes it his or her own. The filmmakers have put together a cast full of people who generally do decent work but aren't exactly draws on their own. Take Jerry O'Connell - he's got the same rakish charm as Joe that has kept him a television series lead almost continually for twenty-five years, and one would be hard-pressed to find any place he falters here, but despite being the effective center of the movie, he can't quite pull it up with him. The same goes for Justin Long, pleasant enough but as Holt, selling the jokes he's given, but not exceptional. The ladies fare somewhat better - Scottie Thompson has a lot dumped in her lap as Mila and she manages to make all of it work, while Gillian Jacobs manages to make Lacey amusing in her being a step behind without her ever starting to feel dumb. John Corbett adds to the relative oddity as Joe's former high school coach turned dealer, although Gina Gershon (as a cop) and Luis Guzman seem underused.It's a cast that the audience feels primed to like, with their characters put in situations that, while dangerous, should also be enjoyably odd. That's not the way that the Grays go with it, though, to the extent that I'm not sure what sort of movie they were looking to make here. It's not that one can't combine offbeat with harsh, but you need a much better ending than this movie has to make the viewer feel like it was worth it.
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originally posted: 11/10/14 00:40:08