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Russell Mulcahy’s “Give’em Hell Malone” is one of those anachronistic film noir filled with characters more appropriate in ‘40s and ‘50s detective movies featuring heroes with names like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. As the film opens, Thomas Jane’s Malone, a private dick with a very big gun that he brandishes expertly, is killing his way through a hotel full of bad guys to get to a metallic case that he has been sent to retrieve. Shot up to hell and back, but still alive, our hero seeks out some answers from his handler Murphy (Leland Orser), eventually discovering that they were both hired by the vivacious lady in red Evelyn (Elsa Pataky). Meanwhile, crime boss Whitmore (Gregory Harrison) dispatches his best enforcer, the brute with a heart of gold Boulder (Ving Rhames) and some other dangerous killers to take back the suitcase by all means necessary.
The thing about a movie like “Malone” is that you just have to roll with the punches. Yes, our hero has just shot up a hotel full of bad guys leaving a pile of bodies in his wake, but no, cops won’t be looking for him. In fact, after getting shot, Malone simply runs over to his mom (Eileen Ryan), who lives in a retirement home and waits for her son to show up every now and then with a gunshot wound that she dresses with her ready-made kit. This is also a movie where a character called Frankie the Crooner (an amusing French Stewart) gets a blowjob from foreign hookers in the back room before running out front to sing for a bunch of stoners in his nightclub audience. And while the crime elements of the film are definitely old school, there’s nothing “classic” about villains like the knife-wielding Mauler (Chris Yen) or the pyro Matchstick (Dough Hutchison).
Once you’ve allowed yourself to go with “Malone’s” flow, the film is an easy sit-through, a crime film that feels like it was shot in a parallel universe, where laws are made up as they go. Director Russell Mulcahy telegraphs his intentions about delivering a good old fashion shoot’em up early with the hotel sequence and rarely lets up. The action is pretty constant throughout the movie, from wild fist fights between Malone and Boulder, as well as plenty of gunplay. Bad guys with silly nicknames get dispatched on a regular basis, though the script by Mark Hosack does leave room for pathos for our leading man. Malone’s past is a source of great rumor for the characters in the film, including his penchant for ripping out a man’s heart and eating it. Did he or didn’t he? And what’s the deal with his family? How did they get killed again? Everyone, it seems, has a different version of the story, and only Malone knows for sure, and he ain’t talking.
Thomas Jane, who has a shown a good feel for these types of roles, is perfectly cast as Malone. Even his voiceovers are appropriately gruff and tough. Elsa Pataky, as the femme fatale with a sharp tongue and even sharper survival instincts is pleasing to look at. She doesn’t exactly steal every scene, but at least this is a better acting showcase for her than, say, 2006’s “Snakes on a Plane”. Ving Rhames plays his usual heavy role, while Chris Yen, little sister of Hong Kong ass kicker Donnie Yen, is criminally underused. She has essentially only two scenes in the movie – early on, when she takes out a carnie using a very, er, novel approach, and towards the end, when she once again resurfaces to do her knife thing. I wouldn’t have mind switching Mauler with the overly mouthy Matchstick. The guy’s shtick is that he pours kerosene on people and lights them on fire. Plus, he talks a lot. Big whoops, he’s only scary because no one bothers to shoot him before he starts talking. Thankfully, that is eventually remedied, though not soon enough for my taste.
Make no mistake about it; while it leans toward aping a John Huston 1940s film noir, “Give ‘em Hell Malone” is one hell of a violent 2009 movie. Whenever Malone gets into a scuffle, he usually ends up limping away just as bloody as the bad guys, who usually end up dead. Mulcahy shows no real favoritism toward his characters, and although we’re always pretty sure Malone will come out of it fine (or at least, alive), the rest of the cast isn’t so lucky. The violence, though bloody, is also overly cartoonish, and even when Malone is blowing people away with his big ol gun, you can never really take what’s happening onscreen too seriously. The film offers up some gratuitous nudity courtesy of Elsa Pataky’s shower scene, but other than that the “R” is definitely for violence.
“Give ‘em Hell Malone” hints at a sequel, though that seems unlikely given that the film is going straight to DVD early next year. When it does, you should definitely pick it up. I’m not going to tell you that “Malone” will change the way you see movies for the next ten years (James Cameron’s “Avatar” has already claimed that little distinction), but I will tell you that if you just go with it, it’s an entertaining little jaunt through a parallel universe where guys like Raymond Chandler is still king. Director Russell Mulcahy, who has always been notoriously hit and miss with me, definitely struck gold this time around. It’s too bad the film won’t get the audience or attention it deserves, but maybe DVD is where it’ll gain a cult following. And who knows, maybe a sequel will finally follow down the road. I’m all for seeing what other mess Malone gets himself into.
“Give’em Hell Malone” blasts its way onto DVD January 26, 2010 from National Entertainment Media.
Russell Mulcahy (director) / Mark Hosack (screenplay)
CAST: Thomas Jane … Malone
Ving Rhames … Boulder
Doug Hutchison … Matchstick
Leland Orser … Murphy
French Stewart … Frankie the Crooner
Elsa Pataky … Evelyn
Gregory Harrison … Whitmore
Eileen Ryan … Gloria
Chris Yen … Mauler