Three Businessmen (UK/Netherlands/Spain/Japan, 1998)

ThreeBusinessmen.2Directed by: Alex Cox. I picked this up because Sid and Nancy was one of my teenaged self’s favourites, and Alex Cox’s other stuff gets a certain amount of independent, art-house praise, particularly Repo Man, which I still haven’t checked out. And looking at the description—a couple of guys wandering around cities at night in an unstructured, loose, rambling story, featuring Cox himself and American character actor Miguel Sandoval—what’s not to like? But you know, within like 20 minutes, I wasn’t feeling it. And by the end, I really wasn’t feeling it. Maybe I just don’t “get” this one, and in a few months, looking back, I’ll be really embarrassed by how dumb I was not to appreciate the subtle brilliance of this film: how it side-steps conventional characterization and identification with stunted, unrealistic dialogue, deliberately awkward character interactions, deliberately contrived and unbelievable and unfocused character development, and with an incredibly lazy ending tacked on with a last-minute introduction of a third character so they can make an over-the-top biblical allegory, thus trying to retroactively make some kind of grand artistic point out of the preceding 2 hours of senseless meandering—it’s like, so smart that it makes you think it’s dumb, but it’s actually really smart, if you’re smart enough to get it—and I get it! Well…right now, I don’t get it, and to me, this looked like a really half-thought-out, scrambling, inarticulate parody of a meandering art-house movie that basically amounts to an exercise in Alex Cox’s ability to crank out some low-budget, abstract movie and have an audience of devotees willing to pat him on the back and pretend like they “get it” when there actually isn’t, in this case, anything to get. It’s great seeing a character actor of colour like Miguel Sandoval, who I normally see in secondary roles as a Mexican gangster (his one scene-stealing bit in Get Shorty still gets me), in a prominent role just as the “American,” basically the lead role. Unfortunately, it’s such an annoying role that within 5 minutes of him opening his mouth, I was longing for the first 5 minutes where he didn’t say anything. Alex Cox does an okay job, but nothing more than okay, and as a director, I think he’s no dummy—he knows he’s not that great an actor, but I suspect he took the role to keep costs down, lending weight to my theory that this was just some half-assed pet project that he wanted to crank out for the sake of cranking it out. It was pretty cool to see Robert Wisdom—Bunny Colvin from the Wire!—but his character, again, was so fucking contrived, my God. And the part at the very end with the cash, sage, and a model of the space station MIR…gold, frankincense, and myrrh, get it??? Yeah, I fucking get it, and it’s such a fucking groaner. That moment is the moment that really, really, really lost me. I like a groaner as much as anyone, but with that moment, Cox is basically telling me that the entire film amounted to that one moment of groaner-ism: a stupid, contrived joke, pointing to the fact that the preceding 2 hours of senseless meandering actually didn’t mean anything. Ta-da! Get it? Maybe I do get it. Ugh. (But for all that, he hasn’t lost me, and I really want to make a priority of Repo Man, which has a great reputation, and his Pogues/Strummer films, Straight to Hell and Walker.)

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