“In The Tradition Of The Usual Suspects And Reservoir Dogs” proclaims the back of BluRay box of the copy we received. If only. The spirit may be willing, but the movie from writer and director Aaron Harvey is weak. Seemingly cobbled together out of leftover ideas from every movie that came in the wake of those aforementioned films, with a big debt owed to Quentin Tarantino, “Catch .44” is a bunch of stylistic choices looking for something resembling a movie to hang on to.
As anyone who watched a crime movie in the post-“Pulp Fiction” wave knows, subverting linear storytelling was a hallmark of every film that immediately followed. So “Catch .44” doesn’t just start with one flashback, it starts with two. First we get a brief moment with a voiceover by crime lord Mel (Bruce Willis) before we flip back to the sequence around which the rest of the movie will orbit. A trio of gals — Tes (Malin Akerman), Kara (Nikki Reed) and Dawn (Deborah Ann Woll) — are sitting in a diner at 3 AM waiting for their mark who will kick start their latest job for Mel. Before we find out who or what that is, Harvey makes us listen to a rather tedious dissertation by Tes about “faking it” and not just sexually. This is one of those dialogue bits that writers and directors forever try to emulate out of the Tarantino handbook, trying to make the mundane sound profound. Few ever succeed, and Harvey doesn’t here. Anyway, when that’s over, guns are drawn shots are fired and someone dies! You know what that means — it’s time for the movie’s title card and then another flashback to show how the night began and how these girls wound up in so much trouble.
Needless to say to explain the plot any further would be spoil it, but it would also bore the reader as ultimately, it adds up to very little and is not all that original. But a thin story could be forgivable if the characters weren’t anything more than a collection of tics. Every person we meet in this movie is accessorized with a quirk. Mel constantly eats pecans; Dawn is a chain smoker, Kara constantly has earbuds in her ears; Tes — well, she’s just The Hot One and Forest Whitaker, plays a vicious killer who constantly switches disguises and accents. When Shea Whigham (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Take Shelter“) showed up, we breathed a sigh of relief as we hoped his presence would begin to elevate the picture. But given that the last third to half the movie are three characters standing around, pointing guns at each and explaining with endless exposition what is going on, that brief optimism was quickly dashed.
But if there is one area in which the film succeeds, and its with the soundtrack. With songs from Sweet, David Bowie, The Kills, Viva Voce, The Raveonettes and Joe Williams (and also Bruce Willis contributing his version of “Respect Yourself”), it’s a pretty good mix of tunes. But too bad Harvey thinks that simply by placing them over scenes that his job is done. It’s one thing to curate a good selection of songs, it’s another to know how and when to use them and unfortunately there is little rhyme or reason to when they appear, why they appear or what they to do in relation to what is going on in a scene. But if there is one thing Harvey loves to do, it’s pump up the soundtrack and film tracking shots from behind as somebody walks up a staircase or through a winding hallway. He must have watched that Copacabana scene from “Goodfellas” a thousand times.
As you might guess, by the time this slim 90 minute film gets to the end the body count is high, the blood is flowing and as always, there is one more twist (that you’ll see coming from a mile away). And of course, we end with the same shot we started with…followed by an extra scene during the credits. WINK! Harvey is capable behind the camera, and he certainly knows how to deliver unflinching violence (someone’s face gets half blown off), but the story here is hardly worth the effort or narrative trickery. “Catch .44” loads up a bunch of faded genre elements and pulls the trigger, only to find out the safety was still on. [D]