Justice has a new face! And that face is sleepy! The appeal of actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems to lie in the suggestion that he’s giving his performance right after he just woke from a nap. This makes him the perfect leading man for “The Courier,” a new action thriller hitting DVD this week. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad, who last helmed the Oscar nominated “Paradise Now,” “The Courier” almost seems embarrassed by its content, acting like a slow-moving character study that just happens to have ludicrous gunfights, preposterous code names, and a perverse downbeat ending.
As the title character, grumpy Morgan is essentially a working-class version of “The Transporter,” brokering deals on a budget with a specific set of rules he’s determined to avoid breaking. Moody and untrusting, he shows no change in demeanor after one particular deal, which involves catching a woman thrown off a roller coaster. Any other hero would make moves on the woman, or stylishly return her home. The Courier instead lumbers back to his crusty contact (Mark Margolis) who works out of a dusty old boxing gym.
You could also guess that most films like this will also feature some sort of climactic scene involving a boxer or gym equipment, but sadly it’s just a broken down place of work. Abu-Assad at least gives the film some regional flavor, staging a few action sequences on quiet city blocks and blighted apartment buildings, though the story might as well be Anytown, USA. This is further emphasized by the arrival of a “government agent” played by the heavily accented Til Schweiger, who assumes many different roles over the course of the film, each one less convincing than the last.
Schweiger comes to The Courier with the most low-energy shakedown in the world. Find a missing criminal mastermind within the next few days or your family gets killed, he says to a sitting, and weary Morgan, who groans as if he just grabbed some cereal and found out there was no milk. Now The Courier is on the trail of Evil Sivle, a ghost-like bad guy who hasn’t been seen in years, leaving behind a series of dead accomplices, and a dubious name no one dares question until it’s deciphered in the third act.
Evil Sivle is played by Mickey Rourke, who’s seen early and often during the film. Well, more like heard, since he reclines in front of a desk, facing away from the camera, a series of ominous phone calls probably being done by ADR. In the history of mailed-in Mickey Rourke performances, this is certainly a doozy—he can’t even be bothered to get up. In the third act, when we finally see him, it’s hard to reconcile the unpredictable twist with the fact that Rourke took this role just so he could do something ridiculous during a bizarre monologue.
Adding to this film’s conflict of identity are two henchmen played by veterans Miguel Ferrer and Lili Taylor. The duo likely took the role due to the involvement of Abu-Assad, but probably would have never guessed they would end up as a married couple who not only perform hits on the side, but live a fairly upscale suburban lifestyle thanks to medieval torture tactics they not only practice, but have researched—a scene where they demolish the helpless Courier is peppered with a lecture about ancient torture techniques, as if these characters become more interesting if they’re worldly. In an amusing touch, this torture chamber is located only a couple of rooms away from the kitchen, where the two are revealed to be hardcore foodies.
“The Courier” has taken a while to make it to the American marketplace. Theories abound, though you’ll notice the rule that films with a long incubation period tend to be the least finished. “The Courier” feels like a sketch of something both bigger and more personal, particularly given that the film’s climax is teased out through obscure flashbacks suggesting something a bit less neat than the standard-issue actioner “The Courier” attempts to be. Perhaps Abu-Assad was attempting to expand the genre a bit, add a little more color and unpredictability. None of it is convincing, however, as the film pivots on a number of listless performances and mundane visuals (most of the action is disastrous green screen), checking off a list of genre clichés with low temperature and dismal focus. And that’s even before Mickey Rourke gets up from his chair, further degrading the dubious work he’s done since his “comeback.” [D+]