"The Killer Inside Me" misses target

Mon Jan 25, 2010 8:12pm EST

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PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - The savage wit of Jim Thompson is just another casualty, albeit the only unintentional one, in "The Killer Inside Me," an adaptation that looks good but can't find the right tone in depicting its Andy Griffith-meets-"American Psycho" anti-hero.

Shockingly violent murders left many in the Sundance crowd disgusted, suggesting that potential distributors might argue for trims before any theatrical release.

Casey Affleck is strange casting for the central role, a West Texas deputy who's neither as friendly nor as dim-witted as townfolk think. His gentle voice is too thoughtful for the hokey cliches with which Lou Ford "needles" his neighbors, and though Affleck can muster a psychopathic grin when necessary, he doesn't project the good-ol'-boy harmlessness that for some time keeps Ford from becoming a suspect in the murders he commits.

Set in a 1950s small town, the story plays with the notion that one of a town's most respectable young men actually is a two-timer who loves rough sex and kills even when it hardly benefits him. Ford's first victim is a prostitute he's sleeping with -- played by Jessica Alba, who's unrecognizable after the startlingly long series of punches she receives in the end -- who quickly is followed by the rich boy who wanted to run away with her.

What should be a perfect premeditated crime actually leaves loose threads dangling, and Thompson's book is a page-turning series of episodes in which Ford almost is caught and must invent a lie or kill someone to escape. But director Michael Winterbottom doesn't generate the pulp author's rising pitch, in which the next shoe dropping never is the final one, and his attempts to convey the narrator's pitch-black humor often rely on an off-target use of Western Swing tunes that make the action more jaunty and ironic than menacing.

When the noose finally begins to close around Ford's neck, the movie is nearly suspense-free, as if it, like its protagonist, is psychotically detached from reality. Calmly preparing its final, lethal scene, it never convinces us to care.

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