Catch .44

| December 19, 2011

For about twenty years now, the sub-genre known as “Wannabe Tarantino” has been responsible for a pretty sizable output of films, the most recent being writer/director Aaron Harvey’s Catch .44, which at least has the distinction of having Bruce Willis in the cast, ironically playing a Marsellus Wallace type of crime lord. As is often the case, Willis alone is reason enough to see this film. Not too many actors make a fool out of themselves with as much sincerity and enjoyment as he does, and here he gets to give life to one of his more peculiar characters. Also offering a heavy dose of peculiarity is Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker, who plays Willis’ right hand man (and he steals the show doing it).
The main problem with this film is that it revolves around a single, brief event, and while the event itself should have been exciting enough—three women, led by Akerman, in Willis’ employ are sent to an out-of-the-way diner to intercept a drug exchange and all hell breaks loose—Harvey tries to do too much with it. Obviously, you have to do something with it, otherwise you get a bloated mess of pretentious intellectual meandering like Blow-Up; at the same time, however, you have to be cautious not to overextend yourself, otherwise you end up with a film like this. I don’t know if the goal was to make things more exciting, to show off bravura editing skills, or to pay even more homage to Tarantino, but the film begins at the end (making it more exciting?) and the diner sequence that serves as the narrative lynchpin goes through a series of starts and stops (showing off editing?), told and retold from slightly different vantage points in nonlinear fashion (paying more homage to Tarantino?), often interrupted for flashbacks either to the three girls en route to the diner or even older flashbacks detailing how Akerman got mixed up with Willis.
In the beginning of the film, there is a lot of Death Proof style banter between the women, and needless to say, none of it has even a fraction of the charge possessed by Tarantino’s dialogue. In all honesty, the moments where the film shines the brightest are when it has nothing at all in common with Tarantino. Tarantino can write great vicious psychos (Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs and Christopher Walken in True Romance probably top the list) but he has never written a straight up loon. Harvey, however, had two great loons in the palm of his hand, and what’s more, he was lucky enough to have Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker bringing them to life. When Willis was dancing in an open robe with so little fabric covering him that I can’t even truthfully say he was wearing underwear, I was cracking up, and when Whitaker was playing the crazed stalker, I was amused as well as genuinely disturbed. Harvey infuriatingly went back on himself, though, writing in a series of “twists” to reveal ulterior motives that rendered the characters’ lunacy as masks designed to hide their true intentions, and I think the film would have benefited from Harvey going past Tarantino and settling into a world of camp and craziness all his own.
It was as if, as soon as he started to stray too far from the Tarantino playbook, Harvey would force himself back into that box. He could have made a really strong crime film, and he displays, in several of the Tarantino-less scenes throughout the film (the best of which is the strip club encounter with Akerman, Whitaker, and a random scumbag), tremendous promise as a filmmaker. Until he takes his Tarantino influence and synthesizes it with an original and unique voice of his own, however, his films will never be able to reach that next level up from imitation.
Harvey is still very young, and with this being only his second film, he still has a ton of room to experiment and evolve as a filmmaker. Even this early in the game, Harvey offers brief glimpses into genuine brilliance, and I’m looking forward to the film he makes that ties those glimpses together.

About the Author:

Kyle Barrowman is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at Columbia College in Chicago. In addition to his work for Film Monthly, he has previously published essays for Cashiers du Cinemart, Offscreen, and The International Journal of Žižek Studies, on subjects ranging from film noir to Alfred Hitchcock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Lee.
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