Desperate Remedies

In this case, that new identity is a role in A Reason to Love—literally. Once in L.A., Betty dons her nurse's uniform and goes looking for a job in the soap's imaginary hospital; after she's set up to see the actor who plays Dr. Ravell, she begins improvising with his character, much to his fascination. For a time, Betty suggests a contemporary Maria Montez—effectively deforming reality to the dimensions of her own imagination. She even casts a spell on one of her pursuers, who, much to his colleague's disgust, is mesmerized by their quarry's presumed Doris Day wholesomeness. Like Being John Malkovich, Nurse Betty is a movie about image and acting. LaBute successfully constructs a world that can encompass the Martian histrionics of Crispin Glover and the bland snarkiness of Greg Kinnear.

After spending three hours with Betty, Kinnear's character exclaims that he hasn't felt so real since he was "with Stella Adler in New York." But, whether or not Betty sustains her character, the movie fails to maintain its own. The scenario falls apart. Nurse Betty initially suggests that anything is possible; the final burst of bloody confusion and conventional wish-fulfillment makes it clear that nothing is.


Boy meets girl: Depardieu and Chuillot in Pola X.
photo: Marion Stalens
Boy meets girl: Depardieu and Chuillot in Pola X.

Details

Pola X
Directed by Leos Carax
Written by Carax, Lauren Sedofsky, and Jean-Pol Fargeau from the novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities by Herman Melville
A WinStar release
Angelika
Opens September 8

Nurse Betty
Directed by Neil LaBute
Written by John C. Richards and James Flamberg
A USA Films release
Opens September 8

The Way of the Gun
Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie
An Artisan release
Opens September 8

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Where Nurse Betty lifts its garrulous hitmen from Pulp Fiction, The Way of the Gun is an attitude noir that takes a good deal more. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for scripting The Usual Suspects, this buzzword mantra is stocked with showy, pointless bits of business—beginning with the opening attention-grabber in which a posturing pair of philosophical petty criminals, Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro, precipitate a brawl in a suburban parking lot.

Like Nurse Betty, with which it shares Monument Valley as a backdrop, Way of the Gun is a self-consciously American odyssey. But, as befits a movie that wants to go mano a mano with Tarantino, Peckinpah, and the Coens, it's obsessed with genealogy. After a ludicrous attempt to become sperm donors, Phillippe and Del Toro conceive the notion of kidnapping the pregnant young woman serving as a criminal multimillionaire's hired womb. The idea of Juliette Lewis—Ms. Bad Karma—as a surrogate mother is the least of the movie's abstractions. The initial abduction stops the stillborn show with its gratuitous brutality, absurdly slow getaway, and increasingly desperate Method actors. While the coolly frantic Del Toro gives a performance in search of a character, Phillippe is implacably inert throughout. Phillippe talks like Brando; Del Toro apes the body language. Nevertheless, James Caan steals the movie as a veteran tough guy, rotating his torso around some unseen truss.

Unexpectedly, the initially clumsy exposition improves once the desperadoes head south of the border—the movie accelerating into a plot-driven rondo of convoluted relationships and hairpin power shifts. But Way of the Gun's middle act, which includes the best of the film's three extravagantly choreographed shoot-outs, is dissipated by McQuarrie's big closer, a cosmic denouement in a Mexican whorehouse. It's possible that Way of the Gun will garner some wild kudos, but the chief villain's best line suggests that at least the film is onto itself: "It's a simple fact of life that anyone who does business with me can't be trusted."

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