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Black Out: A Movie That Imitates Movies That Imitate Movies

Raymond Thiry in Black Out.
Raymond Thiry in Black Out.

A self-aware, borderline self-reflexive action-comedy from the Netherlands, Arne Toonen's Black Out is derivative in a way that undermines its wry sense of self.

It begins with a classic scenario: Semi-reformed criminal Jos wakes up next to a corpse with a gun and no memory of the previous night. From there, the movie aspires to the likes of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie — even going so far as to invoke the former both explicitly (a reference to Kill Bill's gender politics) and implicitly (the director's patented trunk shot) — but doesn't offer anything its forebears haven't already pulled off with more style and wit.

Imitating filmmakers who are themselves endlessly imitative is a strange form of mimesis, one that results in lines like "You've seen the movies" and "This is not a movie where they explain everything at the end" spoken by zany inhabitants of the criminal underworld to one another.

When it's content to reconstruct the prior night's events and observe Jos and this motley crew of higher-ups and wannabes as they try to improve their stations via increasingly desperate and ill-advised measures, Black Out is as capable and smart an entertainment as it's trying to be.

And yet it says a lot that an attempted drug deal in which the cocaine is flour and the money is counterfeit ends up being a fitting summation of the film as a whole: All any of these play-actors can do is feign expertise, pretend to be something more than they are, and hope no one notices.

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