Goodman Town (2002) Movie Review

“Goodman Town” rarely makes sense, and director Sakchai Sribonnam seems to know this. The film is basically a parody of the post-apocalyptic movies of the ’80s, where a Lone Laconic Warrior wanders the wasteland in search of purpose and ends up defending a town/city/group of people. There’s nothing remotely original about the movie, unless you consider its flaky attitude toward traditional narrative structure. Frankly speaking, this is an example of how not to write a movie. Then again, the fact that Sribonnam and company knows this gives them a leg up on their critics.

The hero of the film is Mr. Climax, a Mad Max clone (he even wears a Gerry-rigged leg brace) that wanders the wasteland in search of — well, he doesn’t really know. You see, our hero lost his memory during a gunfight a while back. Mr. Climax ends up around the area of Goodman Town, which is ruled by Tiger Yai. The boss of Goodman Town has just been informed by a fortuneteller (who isn’t really a fortuneteller at all) that if he doesn’t marry a tall, beautiful woman in 4 days he’s going to die. Being that he likes living too much, Tiger Yai sends his minions in search of his bride, who happens to look a bit like Mr. Climax’s wife, who is also searching for her amnesiac husband.

Also, there’s a rival town called Dark Commune that wants to claim Goodman Town for their own. These guys seem to be the lesser of the two evils, as demonstrated by the Dark Commune leader’s generous personality. The Dark Commune folks plan to dig their way to Goodman Town and then blow up their rivals. Or something along that line. In any case, Mr. Climax wanders into this feud at the same time as four assassins hired by Yai to reclaim his bride-to-be. As Movie Coincidence would have it, the four assassins and Climax are old enemies — and it’s about time for a rematch!

Despite its convoluted scenarios, “Goodman Town” has a lot of trouble sustaining its hour and 40 minute running time. After the first 30 minutes, where all the many plots get unfurled, the rest of the movie is repetitive — basically nothing more than a series of gunbattles. The whole thing culminates in a giant gunbattle at Goodman Town. Practical and CGI explosions fill the screen and for almost 30 minutes there’s nothing but raw, unrelenting mayhem. And yet it’s all so dull — mostly because it’s the same thing that’s been happening onscreen for the last 70 minutes.

It’s not like “Goodman Town” was cheap to make. The film may take its archetypes from low-budget ’80s post-apocalyptic films, but this Thai version has a sizable budget. The fact that Sribonnam can throw all manner of carnage onscreen long stretches at a time means a lot of money was spent. Although the setting is basically the desert, with the destruction taking place around skeletal sets built for the movie, all of the pyrotechnic and elaborate choreography clearly costs a lot of money. For a comparison, look at “Six-String Samurai”, which probably couldn’t afford “Goodman Town’s” catering budget.

The screenplay is a hodgepodge of ideas, but not any one of them gets enough attention. Between the Dark Commune people digging to Goodman Town there are long stretches where Mr. Climax and his wife meet and the wife tries to convince her husband that they’re married. There is some lame dialogue, not to mention lackluster chemistry between the two actors. Also, I’m not sure if scratching your head and looking constantly confused qualifies as “acting”. Not that the leading man had anything to work with; the leading lady, besides not having the face for the role, has just as little acting ability.

The only real reason to watch “Goodman Town” is for the unrestrained giddiness with which the filmmakers orchestrate the chaos. Once the four assassins show up, the energy level picks up tremendously. Not surprisingly, about half of the movie is spent on the adventures of the four assassins as they go about the wasteland laying, well, waste to everything and everyone in sight. All four actors do excellent work, especially compared to the dreadfully boring leading man, who couldn’t muster enough energy to convince as a fifth-rate Mad Max wannabe. The action, as mentioned, is over-the-top and cartoonish. Anything involving guns follows the John Woo formula, which states that only the hero can shoot and hit the bad guys, and vice versa.

Billed as an action-comedy, “Goodman Town” has some funny moments. Understanding of the Thai language would help, although the English subtitles are quite excellent. Some of the gags — in particular those written around the very lame Tiger Yai character — fall flat. But luckily everyone else picks up the slack, and the film has its share of really funny moments. The acting by the supporting cast is predictably broad and hackneyed, which isn’t a surprise for anyone familiar with Thai comedy.

“Goodman Town” is an amusing film, but could probably have used a judicious editor. The final action sequence goes on for much too long, and the movie is basically nothing more than a series of mindless gunbattles. Then again, it is pretty funny when Tiger Yai isn’t onscreen, and the four assassins alone are worth watching. And the action, although repetitive, is still very well staged, and the pyrotechnics are quite impressive.

Sakchai Sribonnam (director) / Sakchai Sribonnam (screenplay)

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