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True to Formula

Mifune, a/k/a Dogma 3, hews about as closely as its forerunners to the collective's tenfold Vow of Chastity (i.e., kinda), but it differs in one key respect. Dispensing with the signature anarchic posturing, not to mention any pretense of back-to-basics innovation, Mifuneis in fact provocatively unprovocative. For all the Dogmatic emphasis on rawness and immediacy (location shooting, natural light, no post-dubbed sound, et cetera), the film, directed and cowritten by Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, feels painfully inorganic—a slapdash pastiche of tropes and tics that would be scorned arriving off a Hollywood conveyor belt but, gussied up with a bogus Euro-art-film respectability, was enough to nab a prize at Berlin a year ago and precipitate a distributors' scuffle.

Like Dogma 1, Thomas Vinterberg's melodramatic farce The Celebration (a masterwork by comparison), Mifunetakes as its starting point the family as a source of shame. A Copenhagen yuppie (Anders W. Berthelsen) who keeps his humble origins a secret marries his boss's daughter; on their honeymoon, he receives word of his father's death and is called away to the family farm, where his mentally retarded brother (Jesper Asholt) awaits. (The consistently ignored 10th Dogma tenet, "The director must not be credited," might as well be replaced with "Mental illness must feature prominently"; see also #2, The Idiots, and #4, julien donkey-boy.) A search for a housekeeper results in the arrival of a beautiful, kindhearted hooker (Iben Hjejle) and her bratty adolescent brother.

The alternative-family happily-ever-after is so plainly preordained, and the script's dawdling attempts to postpone it are so disingenuous, that Mifunegrows increasingly slack and silly. (Having your characters remark on the "triteness" of their tidy fate is a particularly worthless form of self-consciousness.) No one deviates from type. The yuppie's new bride, vigorous and loud in bed on their wedding night, is instantly established as a shrew. The idiot is a fount of comedy, pathos, and, above all, insight. (The title comes from an incidental quirk of the character's, a fixation with Toshiro Mifune and samurai tales.) Resident Dogma cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle shoots on film and makes the most of some conspicuously golden sunlight, but his digital-video work in both The Celebrationand julien donkey-boywas less decorous and more inventive.

Family tics: Berthelsen and Asholt in Mifune
photo: Lars Hogsted
Family tics: Berthelsen and Asholt in Mifune

Details

Mifune
Directed by Søren Kragh-Jacobsen
Written by Kragh-Jacobsen and Anders Thomas Jensen
A Sony Pictures Classics release
Opens February 25

The Whole Nine Yards
Directed by Jonathan Lynn
Written by Mitchell Kapner

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One Dogma rule stipulates that "genre movies are not acceptable"; while what exactly constitutes a genre is arguable, it's safe to presume that the basic underlying idea is to discourage the reliance on timeworn blueprints. Mifune, however, is beholden to the lazy character shorthand and cleanly mapped narrative trajectories of the most formulaic Hollywood fare. Maybe it's all a sick joke—there is an undeniable tragicomedy in the notion that a return to cinematic purity should produce something that suggests the union of Rain Man and Pretty Woman.


A similarly inbred specimen, The Whole Nine Yards splices together the odd-couple buddy movie and the hitman-with-a-heart comedy—it maps, with almost mathematical precision, the comic permutations that follow when a contract killer (Bruce Willis) moves in next door to a bumbling dentist (Matthew Perry) and his harpy-slut French Canadian wife (Rosanna Arquette, all cleavage and out-of-control accent). Perry's Oz falls madly in love with the hitman's estranged missus (Natasha Henstridge); his chirpy assistant (Amanda Peet) turns out to be a wannabe assassin; more criminal types show up (including Kevin Pollak as a Hungarian ganglord). Before long, just about everyone wants someone else dead, with the exception of the increasingly harried Oz (played by Perry with perpetual frown and as a spasmodic succession of double takes). The setting is Montreal, which not only must have been a cost-cutting measure but facilitates a running gag about Canadians putting mayonnaise on their burgers (the other frequently repeated joke is about dentists being suicidal). The movie struggles for cool amorality but feels quaint and mechanical. Director Jonathan Lynn sets the pace at several notches below frantic—which only leaves the many tepid gags stranded in a vacuum and the actors compelled to overcompensate. By default, Willis steals the movie with his best Jean Reno impersonation yet.

 
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