Uwe Boll’s rep is on the upswing, but, really, what other direction could it go? The consensus choice for the world’s worst professional director even before he cast Burt Reynolds as a fantasyland king, auteur Boll has in recent years put away childish things—his violent adventure flicks and their sequels—in order to make that serious movie about the Holocaust. Just like Spielberg, if Spielberg were a Mel Brooks character whose early films were video game adaptations made to take advantage of German tax-writeoffs.
Another key way Boll isn’t like Spielberg: His 2007 splatter-comedy Postal opened with a burlesque of two hijackers in the cockpit of a plane hurtling toward New York City. As their martyrdom looms before them, the hijackers learn that, due to high demand, Osama bin Laden has reduced the number of virgins each will be allotted in the afterlife. “Screw this,” one declares, and just as both agree to turn around and head to the Bahamas, American passengers bash into the cockpit, attempt to seize the controls—and, in the scrum, accidentally crash the plane into One World Trade Center.
That’s the sickest of sick jokes, as juvenile as kids on a school bus laughing about dead babies. But its execution belies Boll’s reputation. The scene is effectively made, the director’s touch lighter than you might expect, the two hijackers coming off as likable everydudes, the whole puerile sequence better crafted than the set piece gags in most Hollywood studio comedies.
Boll’s latest, Assault on Wall Street, also has its surprisingly well-made scenes of terrorist attacks against lower Manhattan. (The movie isn’t getting a New York release, though — the distributor has opted to open it in one theater in Los Angeles, meanwhile dumping it onto on-demand services.) This time the murder of New York’s global capitalists isn’t meant to be funny; it’s supposed to inspire. The film’s hero, Jim (Dominic Purcell), is given a quick Tom Joad-style speech at the movie’s end, assuring us that the bloodbath he just unleashed in a Wall Street firm will not be his last. Boll himself is talking tough in interviews; speaking to our Nick Schager, the director issued a warning to Wall Street executives: “Don’t think you’re safe.”
Still, the violence in Assault on Wall Street is minor, compared to other R-rated killing fantasies. At first, one at a time, with mere network-TV bloodiness, Jim offs the men in suits who spent the film’s hard-slog of a first hour tanking his finances. These men break him the terrible news about his pension, his interest rates, his mortgage, his health insurance—he’s like a Job dreamed up by Michael Moore. It’s no spoiler that he eventually takes revenge; why else is a movie hero ever shit on, if not to make later mayhem palatable? The surprise is how long it takes him to go commando, and how many sad subway rides we watch him take. (These were filmed on actual trains in and out of Queens, something the MTA doesn’t advertise.)
Another clue: Jim tapes up newspaper clippings about his enemies, which is bad-movie shorthand for assassinations to come. Don’t these guys ever use web-browser bookmarks? Those clippings are priceless, incidentally. After an assistant district attorney is offed, the movie’s version of the New York Post settles on the deeply un-Post-like headline “A.D.A. Dead in Drunken Accident.” Inside a Forbes-style glossy we’re treated to “A Risky Maneouver [sic] Pays Off Lucratively.”
The killer is the usual good man robbed of his family. His wife (Erin Karpluk) suffers from one of those movie diseases that does nothing to diminish the beauty of the body it’s doomed. She feels terrible for needing the treatments that set off the family’s financial travails. Jim’s response: “It’s not your fault. It’s the banks, it’s the CEOs, it’s the fuckin’ brokers.” Individually, these scenes have some power, especially when Boll offers compelling real-world detail, like the brute awfulness of liens and garnishments, or the straight-up immoral fact that Cobra payments will run this couple $600 a month. There’s even a surprise or two, the best being one of restraint—Jim is an armored-car driver, and he never once seems to consider robbing the bosses who have robbed him.
But an hour of these repetitive, predictable disasters should wear down all but the most bailout-hating viewers. TVs yammer constantly with newscasts, the way they do when you’re stuck in a tire store, and the men in suits, when confronted, are laughably dickish. Jim has lost everything, and a suit commiserates with,“When I told my wife we couldn’t vacation in Barbados, she tore a strip off me the size of Long Island.”
Shaky-English pearls like that are rare, though. By the end, all Boll can think to do is crash his characters into New York’s financial district—again. Jim storms an office building for a sub-Matrix worker-bee slaughter that finishes in a confrontation with the final boss, a pension-looting exec who doesn’t quite understand that he’s a villain at all. That scene is Boll’s strongest, a clever confrontation between an everyman serial killer and a millionaire whose everyday dealings wreck more lives than that killer will ever take. The dialogue is ridiculous, like what an angry high-schooler might bang out for an Occupy-inspired one-act, but the culmination—and Jim’s means of egress from the building he’s shot-up—are better than anything in the last two Die Hards.
That suggests the one question in all this nonsense worth thinking about: Is it truly more moral to enjoy such bloody fantasizing when the big bad is some murderous international outlaw rather than the bottom-line-humping son of a bitch who declined to cover your cousin’s chemo? If this violence upsets us, why doesn’t the rest?