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Befuddled 

Video-game-style gunplay almost does in 'Dead Man Down.'

click to enlarge 'DEAD MAN DOWN': Colin Farrell stars
  • 'DEAD MAN DOWN': Colin Farrell stars

Whether you think "Dead Man Down" is a bad movie, a good one, or something between, you must allow at least that, at the most optimistic, it's a good movie wrapped in a dumb one. The first 10 minutes feature a shootout that borders on video-gameistic, while the last 10 minutes revert to the same. But in the big middle of the sandwich rests the debate. Did we just see a mishmashed, rudderless attempt to redefine the crime thriller? Or was it a curiously original interpretation of a genre that has been gunplayed and grunt-scripted to within a bare inch of its dark, gritty life?

Usually this is a question you can weigh online via Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic or user ratings on IMDB.com. You've got $10 or so to blow on a movie, and you're taking along a date, and you've got to put gas in the car, and two hours plus drive time is a real chunk of your life, so by the time you invest yourself in a movie you could be out $30 plus opportunity costs, and you want to have an idea heading in that you're not just dribbling that money onto an open flame. So we look at the critics' sites. The average score on Metacritic was a 42 out of 100. Rotten Tomatoes, even worse: 36 percent out of 100. A bona fide flunk. But the site for regular viewers, IMDB.com, the democracy, gives it a 7.2 out of 10 — not nearly so shabby. What happened in that gap?

Here's what I think happened, having seen "Dead Man Down," and having mostly enjoyed it, despite wondering through much of it whether I was in fact enjoying a clunker. (Which is fine! If your heart doesn't have space in it for crap, you're squeezing too hard.) My guess is critics blanched when "Dead Man Down" announced itself as a certain kind of movie and swerved hard midway through the first act. It begins as a cold-blooded mob potboiler. A mid-level crime boss (Terrence Howard) has been receiving threatening notes and spooky cut-up photos and then, at his house, a corpse packed in ice in his deep freezer. Clues point to a drug den that is subsequently shot up in a hail of cartoony submachinegunned bangity-bang. We soon learn the hit missed, and the tormentor is still at large.

Hard cut to the apartment building of one of his lieutenants, the rakishly handsome but quietly suffering Victor, played by a restrained Colin Farrell. His high-rise apartment sits across the street from an alluring but disfigured Noomi Rapace (from the Swedish film versions of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," etc.). They make an awkward, semi-cute attempt at meeting. Then she springs a bit of crazy: She has serious dirt on him and she means to blackmail him into doing something terrible for her. They become confidantes, each sucked into the revenge plot the other is nursing. Feelings develop, and of course those bring with them vulnerabilities that make life harder in a dark, gritty crime thriller. C'est la vie.

Pros: The cast, strong. The director, Niels Arden Oplev, who did the aforementioned Swedish "Dragon Tattoo," also strong. Enough cloak and dagger to keep you curious. Peculiar story. Cons: Sluggish start. Uneven chemistry between Farrell and Rapace. Unexplained godlike gunslinging abilities for Farrell's character. You probably won't love it, but I just can't see what critics seem to hate about it. Oh, one more pro, and this one weighs heavily. "Dead Man Down" feels strangely honest. Even if the film is only a 42, the few audiences that shelled out for this saw it as more of a 72. Call it points for trying.

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Film Details

Dead Man Down
Rated R · 110 min. · 2013
Official Site: blooddemandsblood.com
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writer: J.H. Wyman
Producer: J.H. Wyman and Neal H. Moritz
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Colin Farrell, Dominic Cooper, Terrence Howard, Armand Assante, Isabelle Huppert, Raymond Mamrak, Luis Da Silva Jr., James Biberi and Jennifer Butler

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