“More than one way to skin a Cat…”
I watched this purely on the strength of the sleeve, and wasn’t really expecting too much. Early on, that’s pretty much what I got: a mildly entertaining riff on things like Smokin’ Aces [which I never really liked to begin with]. A pair of Americans living in Eastern Europe, Anthony Hester (Mechlowicz) and Julian Simms (McAuley) set up a detective agency, and offer their services to find a missing woman, Catalina Rona (Vega). However, they don’t realize a lot of rather violent people are also after Cat, because she’s in possession of a hard drive containing some very incriminating footage of an American politician, on which everyone wants to get their hands. The trail bips around from the Balkans to Andorra, London, Luxembourg and probably other places I’ve forgotten, with Mechlowicz making little or no impact, and McAuley shamelessly aping the two Chris’s, Rock and Tucker, to rather too much impact.
Then McTeer shows up, and the film becomes unutterably wonderful the rest of the way.
Seriously: I don’t think I can remember a movie dragged up so much by a single performance. She plays Helen Bingham, an uber-polite, ultra-violent assassin who starts off on Cat’s tail, but is the victim of a double-cross herself, which turns out to be a very, very bad move for the perpetrators. While Bingham owes a clear debt to the other Helen – that’d be Mirren, in Red – the script gives this character much more room to blossom. The Oscar-nominated McTeer sinks her teeth into the role with gusto, not least in a hellacious brawl with Karel Roden, but every scene with her is a joy, such as her asking the victims of her work, “Do you need a moment?” before offing them. If you can imagine a cross between Mary Poppins and Anton Chigurh (and I appreciate, that’s not easy!), you’ll be in the right area.
There are other delights, not least Tony Curran as an extremely irritable rival Scottish hitman, who meets an extremely messy end. As a Scot, this kind of heavily stereotyped portrayal can be irritating – I’d happily stone Mike Myers to death for his crimes in the area – but Curran gets it right. [Besides, he’s allowed slack after his portrayal of Van Gogh in one of the most memorable of Doctor Who episodes] But the main improvement is that the focus of the film becomes Bingham, rather than Vanillaman and his annoying sidekick. It just goes to show that, even when a movie is clearly not to be taken seriously, as here, it can still be an enormous help when the characters do.
Dir: John Stockwell
Star: Scott Mechlowicz, Alphonso McAuley, Paz Vega, Janet McTeer