Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Movie Review: 'Enemy' Is Its Own Worst Enemy

Jake goes head-to-head against himself in the doppleganger thriller 'Enemy'

The second collaboration in a matter of months between Jake Gyllenhaal and Canadian director Denis Villenevue after "Prisoners," "Enemy" is so unforgivably bad, it makes their first effort together look like a masterpiece. There's nothing worse than having a good plot that doesn't build up to anything and seems stale from the get-go.

"Enemy" opens with a really weird sexual party a la "Eyes Wide Shut" where pregnant girls nakedly frock around and kill spiders with their stiletttos. Yes, I'm serious. The spiders come back periodically as larger than life symbols trouncing through Toronto for no reason. When that unnecessary sequence ends, we meet Gyllenhaal's first character, the melancholy professor Adam Bell, who discovers an actor named Andrew St. Claire (also played by Gyllenhaal) who looks just like him.

Obsessed to discover who this look-a-like is, Adam manipulates his way into Andrew's life, eventually meeting with him in private. They are, indeed, some kind of twin, sharing the same voice, facial/body structure and even body scars. A slow build up to that point in the movie, it develops split personality afterward and turns into a sexual "Parent Trap" for the last 30 minutes.

I'll leave you with that.

This is a good, if not showy, story idea, but it didn't develop into anything, and when it did it tanks because the writers decided to make it crap. Part of it could be the source material, José Saramago's 2002 novel "The Double," but who's to say? When twins throw themselves into a situation where they sleep with each others lovers for no reason, nothing else is really going to make sense. It's even more befuddling because nothing up to that point even called for that to happen. Adam wasn't trying to blackmail Andrew, who in turn trues to make Adam's life a living hell. It was a case of a pompous B-list actor taking advantage of a loner.

The characters are pretty unlikable, which isn't a problem with me, but what they do without a plausible why is what is horrible. I felt punished enough after the opening, but I stuck around for another 85 minutes to the film's completion to see what the movie was all about. Bad idea. All I got was a whole bunch of idiots who solve a problem then create more problems for no reason! (Wait until you see the scene with non-organic blueberries.) You can create a thriller without long, drawn-out scenes of boredom and no character development (see anything by Haneke) but Villenevue can't do it.

Now, I've never been a die hard fan of Gyllenhaal, but I won't object to seeing a movie he's in either. This was one of his poorest showings as an actor. The whole movie was him pouting about as the depressed professor or the "holier-than-thou" actor. Sure, the characters personalities are total opposites, but there were a few scenes as Andrew where he seemed like a first-year acting student. Like I said about Julia Robert's horrendous turn in "August: Osage County," shouting does not a good actor make.

For such an acclaimed director, Villenevue made this seem like a senior thesis for a film student. A pretentious story, mediocre acting and symbolism seeking so much attention it doesn't know why it's there. Spiders the size of Godzilla walking around a city is not symbolism. Stop trying to make this seem relevant with the spider from the opening sex party because it doesn't. Trying to be different for the sake of it means nothing if it makes no sense. And enough with all of the backlighting already. We get that these are mysterious shadowy figures talking to each other, don't need the lighting to remind me in every scene. Man, if only Roger Deakins could follow up his Oscar-nominated work on "Prisoners" to help save this movie.

Is there something about a well-known foreign film director with international credibility who hits a speed bump with their first English-language film? Film is a universal language, so how do directors get lost in translation? Either Villenevue goes back to working in French, or finds better material to work with. He's batting 0-2 in English with films focusing on characters who made inconsistently poor decisions. Or maybe Gyllenhaal is ruining these films. He's a common denominator as well.

At least someone dies in the end, that almost makes the film worthwhile. If they had to watch they mess they were in unfold that would have died long before the end.

Rating: F

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