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D: Johnny Martin / 98m

Cast: Al Pacino, Karl Urban, Brittany Snow, Joe Anderson, Sarah Shahi, Chelle Ramos, Steve Coulter, Sloane Warren

Not every movie can be accomplished, original, or a must-see. In fact, the majority of movies – the vast majority – often have the effect of making you wonder just how they got made in the first place. And why. Sometimes it seems that there’s a lot of people out there with money to burn. Other times it’s as if a movie has been made on a dare. Some movies challenge the very notion that quality was ever a consideration when the movie itself was being made. And some movies provoke such an abject response – what the hell is all this? – that there’s nothing for it but to carry on watching in the vain hope that the whole sorry mess will find some way to improve (not that it does though). There are literally thousands of these movies made each and every year, and if there’s an end in sight to all of them, then it’s so far off in the distance as to not to be there at all.

And so we come to Hangman, the latest movie to feature Al Pacino in a performance that makes him look like a disinterested bystander and not the lead character. It fits so neatly into the genre of underwhelming thriller movie that should never have been made, that it’s almost scary. It’s bad in a way that actually elevates average movies into looking and sounding better than they are, and provides further evidence – if any were needed – that if you take a script that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever and film it, then the finished product won’t make any sense either. A project that has been in development since at least 2011, Hangman arrives to dispel the notion that if you spend enough time on something then you can iron out all the kinks and grooves in a script and make something of real quality. Let’s make this clear: whatever time Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger spent on putting the screenplay together, it wasn’t enough.

In a feat akin to shoving a square peg into a round hole, the makers of Hangman have taken one of the world’s most famous and enduring guessing games, and tried to make it the modus operandi of a serial killer (Anderson) whose motivations remain obscure and unconvincing throughout. And not only that, but the word the killer is challenging the police to solve isn’t even in English, a decision that further adds to the confusion created over the killer’s psychological state, and what drives him to murder. All this is as tortuous as it sounds, and the plot – such as it is – quickly surrenders any high ground and goes meekly along with whatever delirious developments Caissie and Huttinger’s screenplay can come up with. This leaves Pacino’s retired detective Archer, and Urban’s moody active detective Ruiney (pronounced Rooney), led by their noses from one staged, and unlikely, crime scene to another while they are gifted clues by a script that really doesn’t care how poorly constructed it is.

The presence of Snow’s Pulitzer-nominated journalist, Christi Davies – no offence, but really? – on assignment to shadow Ruiney for an article, adds a further level of creative insult to the mix as her “signed off by the mayor” involvement sees her included in crime scene searches, put at risk by Archer and Ruiney at almost every turn, and provided with a back story that should be relevant but isn’t. As for the serial killer himself, he’s yet another “brilliant” psychopath who’s always several steps ahead of the police, and can stage the most elaborate murder scenes at the drop of a hat. Thankfully, he’s also susceptible to the kind of cod-psychology musings that Archer comes up with when they finally meet, and Christi’s life is in danger. There are other characters, and much less important ones at that, such as Ruiney’s captain, Lisa Watson (Shahi), who finds herself targeted by the killer, potential suspect, Joey Truman (Ramos), and a raft of even more minor characters who are there to make up the numbers (or the killer’s victims). It’s a measure of the script’s desperate attempts to give these characters some kind of “life” on screen that Ruiney’s wife may have been the killer’s first victim some time before, Watson is in a wheelchair, and Joey and the first victim are lesbians into BDSM.

Wandering through it all, though, as if his reputation as one of the finest actors of his generation, or his position as joint president of the Actors Studio didn’t mean a thing is Pacino. The actor looks permanently surprised in so many scenes it’s hard not to think that each time it happens it’s as if he’s just realising how bad it all is. Whether he’s mumbling his lines or reacting just a beat too slowly to what’s happening around him, it’s a performance that could easily qualify as his worst, even worse than his portrayal as himself in Jack and Jill (2011). There’s no spark here, no animation in his performance, just the sign of an actor treading water and going through the motions. It’s a sad sight, and adds another level of dismay for the viewer to contend with. In contrast, Urban at least tries to inject some energy into his role, but he’s held back by his character’s bull-headed nature and one-note demeanour. Snow fares no better, and the movie wastes her talent as an actress by having her follow her male co-stars around while waiting to be the killer’s eventual last victim.

Making an even worse fist of things than he did on Vengeance: A Love Story (2017), director Johnny Martin continues to show a lack of aptitude behind the camera that, in conjunction with the terrible script, means the movie has no chance of succeeding as the clever, gritty thriller it so desperately wants to be. Whether he’s putting the camera in the wrong place or leaving his talented cast to fend for themselves, Martin does little to lift the material or make it interesting. As a result, the movie lacks pace and intensity, and stutters from scene to scene without any apparent attempt to connect them into a meaningful whole. By the time Archer and Ruiney come face to face with the killer, it’s doubtful just who the average viewer will want to see put out of their misery more: the killer, Archer and Ruiney, or themselves.

Rating: 3/10 – spectacularly awful in a way that, surely, couldn’t have been intended, Hangman is a low-concept thriller that misfires at every step, and makes for one of the  laziest, most apathetic movies of 2017; wrong on so many levels, this should be held up as an object lesson in how not to construct and shoot a movie when the script isn’t there, the director hasn’t a clue, and its main star can’t be bothered.

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