$50 million, Billy Burke, Black comedy, Bombs, Charles Matthau, Christian Slater, Crime, Drama, Elmore Leonard, Literary adaptation, Michael Jai White, Review
D: Charles Matthau / 90m
Cast: Billy Burke, Michael Jai White, Christian Slater, Breanne Rocano, Crispin Glover, Sabina Gadecki, Roger Bart, Andy Dick, Bill Duke, Gloria Hendry
When bomb squad detective Chris Mankowski (Burke) transfers to Sex Crimes he meets Greta (Gadecki) who reports she was raped by multi-millionaire pothead Woody Ricks (Glover). Ricks’ arrest leads to strings being pulled and Mankowski being suspended. Determined not to let Ricks get away with it, Mankowski agrees to help Greta get some financial compensation from Ricks. Meanwhile, two 60’s radicals, Robin (Rocano) and Skip (Slater), convinced that Ricks gave testimony that led to their being imprisoned, plot to relieve him of the $50 million he’s just inherited. To do this they plan a bombing campaign that will frighten him into paying up. In the middle of all this is Donnell (White), Ricks’s bodyguard-cum-personal assistant. He ends up as the go-between for all parties, while trying to defraud his boss of the $50 million himself.
An adaptation of the novel by Elmore Leonard (his personal favourite, apparently), Freaky Deaky – as adapted by writer/director Matthau – has an air of listlessness that it doesn’t quite shrug off, despite some good casting, and a neat line in Leonard’s trademark dialogue. On the page, Leonard’s plots fairly zing and fizz with an energy born from Leonard’s sparse prose. Here, that energy is missing from a movie that fails to generate more than a Chinese burn of excitement. The result is that Freaky Deaky plods from scene to scene without really drawing its audience in, which is a shame as the structure is sound, and as mentioned above, the cast are well-matched to their roles (Slater continues his mini-renaissance with a well-judged take on a mild-manic bomb maker) and there’s some great visual gags (Ricks’s car in the driveway, Ricks trying to put on his pants).
Of the rest of the cast, Burke is saddled with a good guy role that lacks shading, while Glover almost steals the show as the permanently drug- and alcohol-addled Ricks, all vacant stares and poor co-ordination. I say almost because White just beats Glover into second place, playing a seen-it-all ex-con dealing with each successive twist and turn of the plot with weary resignation and some of the best, drollest dialogue on offer. But while the male cast fare well, the same can’t be said of Rocano and Gadeski. As Robin, Rocano sails perilously close at times to coming across as merely a one-note revenge-seeker, while Gadeski does her best to avoid being just eye candy. It’s not their fault, just the way the script has been written.
Matthau has been quiet since 2005’s rom-com Her Minor Thing, and while he’s to be congratulated for persevering through Freaky Deaky‘s troubled production – its original cast, including Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser and Katie Cassidy, were replaced by Burke et al in 2011 – the end result is a disappointment. There’s no flow to the scenes, and it’s obvious the budget was an issue, but even with all the obstacles in the movie’s way, it deserved better. There are few really good adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s work out there, and sadly this isn’t one of them.
Rating: 5/10 – not as impressive as it could have been given its cast, but helped immeasurably by them, Freaky Deaky serves as a reminder that adapting a well-written, well-received book isn’t as easy as it looks; one for Leonard completists only.