Sunday, June 8, 2014

‘R Xmas (2001)

Putting Ice-T in your film basically guarantees it’s going to be bad. By hiring him, a filmmaker is giving up before even going into production. It’s like saying, “I’d really like to make a seriously awful film.” But director Abel Ferrera actually keeps Ice-T out of ‘R Xmas for the first forty-two minutes. And so after a while the viewer is tricked into thinking he or she is watching a halfway decent film.

What we have during those first forty-two minutes is a lot of atmosphere, and a nice quiet creation of tension. So you actually start enjoying the film, almost forgetting about that threat in the opening credits. Though there are lots of pointless shots during these first forty-two minutes, like a shot of Yankee Stadium for no particular reason, and some neighborhood basketball court scene. But aside from that crap you get an interesting atmosphere and two characters who are going about their business without awful dialogue telling us what their business is. Ferrara is good at that. He carefully builds a reality, and before long we’re immersed in it.

And then suddenly there he is, Ice-T, ruining everything that has been established. He plays a jerk who hates Dominicans, and does his usual faux tough guy routine. As always, it’s completely laughable.

He has kidnaped the husband. When the wife asks what he wants, he says, “I want money, and a lot of it, and you got it, and don’t bullshit me, ‘cause I know.” He’s not more specific than that. What is a lot of money? A thousand is a lot to me. But who knows what constitutes a lot to this guy? While he makes no specific demand on the amount of money, he does give her a specific amount of time in which to get the non-specific amount of money: twenty minutes. In fact, he stresses that by repeating it, and louder this time: “Twenty minutes!” So she drives off, in search of a lot of money.

When she goes to some other guy for help, the guy almost immediately asks, “How much do they want?” Good question. So she takes $16,000 to Ice-T, and he gets angry because it’s not enough. Well, maybe if he had started with a specific amount of money rather than a specific amount of time. His priorities are a bit out of whack. And besides, sixteen thousand is a lot of money, especially in only twenty minutes. So again she asks, “How much?” And guess what he says? He says, “A lot.” And then he threatens to kill her husband if she doesn’t comply. Geez, this guy just doesn’t learn. Or perhaps he just wants to play this game all day long. Though it’s also a waste of gasoline on her part, what with her driving back and forth all day with various amounts of money.

Once again he gives her precisely twenty minutes. He’s really hooked on that number. And that makes me wonder if perhaps $20,000 would be enough. It seems worth a try. He tells her, “And bring back some more money.” This movie gets more and more stupid with each syllable that Ice-T mumbles.

So she goes off looking for more money, and Ice-T returns to his hide-out. That, of course, makes no sense, because he had told her to return to the spot where she had parked her car. So if she arrives in twenty minutes and he’s not there, what then? She has no phone number for this guy. He’s only given her twenty minutes. He can’t remain in that spot for that short amount of time? Well, no matter, because a lot more time passes before she returns.

As she walks down a hall, suddenly in voice over Ice-T gives her new instructions – to get all her cash and all her dope and bring it to him. Was this a telepathic message? Apparently she receives it, because she gathers all the drugs and takes it all to him. At this point their interaction should be at an end. But Ice-T gets in her car to learn her life story for some reason. He then ridicules her for doing precisely what he had commanded her to do, saying her husband wouldn’t do that for her. She then goes to a store to buy a pack of cigarettes and he accompanies her. Why, why why? The movie is over. Why are they still talking? (At this point I check, and the film still has another twenty-seven minutes to go. Oh boy.) He starts asking about her daughter, then suddenly demands more money, then demands she make her husband stop selling drugs.

Then we have a scene of Christmas morning, and the family is all together again, and the daughter is excited about a doll. But who cares? The film can’t recover from those scenes with Ice-T. While the first half of the film avoided a lot of dialogue, the second half of the film is basically all dialogue, and most of it is completely terrible. It seems improvised, because it’s bad and repetitive, like the result of an acting exercise at a community college.

At the end of the film, it says, “To be cont …” Really? And why couldn’t they spell out the word “continued”? There’s not even a period after “cont,” just the ellipsis, as if “cont” were a word. It’s just one more irritating thing. And really, how could this story continue anyway? There isn’t much of a story to begin with.

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