It’s strange to think that just a few years ago, Dito Montiel was a Sundance darling whose sharp 2006 debut “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” announced his transition from former punk rocker to refined filmmaker. Instead of following up that deeply personal adaptation of his own memoir with similarly humanistic stories, Montiel turned to genre. His gritty little-seen 2009 drama “Fighting” had its defenders, but “Son of No One” seems destined for universal rejection. It’s not that this ponderous tale of corrupt police work doesn’t hold together. Montiel has made an insipid thriller barely worthy of attention on direct-to-DVD release. Less bad than boring, “Son of No One” is possibly the most forgettable movie to feature A-listers in years.
Like “Fighting,” Montiel’s third feature stars Channing Tatum, here playing police officer Jonathan White, a settled family man troubled by memories from his youth, particularly a 1986 incident in the Queensboro projects when he accidentally killed two people in a freak accident. The son of a deceased police officer, the young Jonathan is saved by his father’s old partner (Al Pacino), who buries the crime.
As an adult, Jonathan has to face his past when the local paper starts running anonymous letters about the cover-up. Ironically assigned to investigate the incident, Jonathan evades the trenchant gaze of his stern boss (Ray Liotta, on autopilot) and confronts his old childhood pal (Tracy Morgan, in a rare dramatic turn, looking totally bored) about the source of the accusatory letters. At home, Jonathan tries to keep his suspicious wife (Katie Holmes) at bay, but soon the guilt of his crimes overwhelms him. The whole thing culminates with virtually all of these people facing each other on a rooftop as Montiel inexplicably fades to white multiple times. The whole thing falls apart in a mess of misconceived plot twists.
The main source of frustration over the failures of “Son of No One” involve its semi-tolerable premise, which Montiel fails to enliven with any kind of emotional legitimacy. He’s capable of presenting the rhythms of the old school cop drama with occasional élan, but nothing adds up. Tatum underacts and Pacino naturally overdoes it, delivering ham-fisted dialogue without a trace of irony. “You’re a deer in the jungle,” he tells the young Jonathan in a flashback.
In truth, the movie itself is a deer caught in the headlights of Sundance scrutiny, selected as the closing night movie and perceived as an epic disaster days ahead of its premiere. Nasty word of mouth made its way through the media chain and drifted all the way to Us Weekly’s doorstep, where the dominant gossip became Holmes’s lackluster performance. In truth, she’s fine in the handful of scenes where she’s given little to do. Mainly, the actress reacts to a statuesque Tatum, whose lifeless performance mirrors the story’s withering momentum. Montiel can’t figure out how to put each piece together. Neither goofy enough for camp status nor lackluster enough for extreme derision, “Son of No One” is just mediocre enough to be an easy target.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Bound to come and go from theaters with little fanfare and bad reviews, the most merciful fate for Montiel’s movie would be complete obscurity.
criticWIRE grade: C