J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Mule: It’s a Dirty Business

Working in customs can be a dirty business. Rubber gloves just don’t come thick enough to make it alright. Of course, it is even worse to be a suspected smuggler on the receiving end. For obvious reasons, time is presumably on the law’s side, but one poor dupe will do his best to put his bodily functions on hold in Tony Mahony & Angus Sampson’s “based on a true story” crime drama The Mule (trailer here), which releases in select markets and on VOD this Friday.

Unbeknownst to sad sack footballer Ray Jenkins, the vice-captain of his team and their dodgy patron have a regular heroin smuggling operation going. This year, Jenkins really ought to attend the annual season-ending trip to Thailand, since he has been awarded their player of the year honor. It would also be a fine opportunity for Jenkins to stuff his stomach with condoms filled with heroin. He would prefer to decline, but his parents’ gambling debts have him in a tight spot. He nearly gets away clean, but some last minute suspicious behavior gives him away to Australian customs.

Not quite as dumb as he looks, Jenkins will not agree to any x-rays or cop to anything. Under Aussie law, he will be held without charge for seven days or two number twos, at which point the evidence should speak for itself. However, Jenkins refuses to go, fortified by his strange willpower and a heavy dose of constipating codeine. It will get ugly, as Detectives Croft and Paris become increasingly impatient holed up in their airport hotel room with its jury-rigged porcelain throne, especially the hot-headed Croft.

If any film could scare a prospective drug mule straight, this would be it. Let’s just say it goes there and skip the graphic descriptions. Frankly, Sampson and co-writers Leigh Whannell (from the Saw franchise) and Jaime Browne largely turn poor Jenkins into a moaning ball of constipation wrangled over by the various cops, gangsters, and his legal aide attorney. However, he will somehow rouse himself for some clever third act twists.

Hugo Weaving is a constant source of entertainment, snarling his way through the film as Croft. Co-writer-co-director Sampson is also appropriately nebbish, in a doughy way, as the unspeakably miserable Jenkins. While Georgina Haig’s public defender is not much of a presence, the film rather slyly implies she is far more interested in Jenkins as a potential cause than concerned with his physical well-being. Regardless, Whannell and John Noble hold up their ends as totally slimy villains.

Contrasting pitiful Jenkins’ cautionary tale with the wall-to-wall coverage of Australia’s America’s Cup Victory makes The Mule a rather idiosyncratic early 1980s period piece. Still, this is not Miami Vice. No doubt about it, the premise is a bit off-putting, to put it tactfully. However, the execution is quite strong, buoyed by its considerable attitude and gumption. Recommended for fans of dark, somewhat scatological thrillers, The Mule launches on iTunes and opens in limited release this Friday (11/21).

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