J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Anchorage ’14: The Lookalike

Joe Mulligan has to be the nicest movie drug dealer since Mel Gibson in Tequila Sunrise. He is about to start courting Mila, who is deaf and has one prosthetic leg. Sadly, she has even worse problems to deal with, not including Mulligan. Their romance will be complicated by some dodgy narco-wheeling-and-dealing in Richard Gray’s The Lookalike (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 Anchorage International Film Festival.

Mulligan and his brother Holt must be the two whitest guys in New Orleans. Salt-of-the-earth Joe only took up dealing to pay off their old man’s gambling debts. In contrast, his younger brother is a coke fiend and basically all-around pond scum, but in a way that is supposed to be endearing. Having finally cleared his father’s debts with Vincent, the family loan shark, the more mature Mulligan has tendered notice to his former employers, Bobby and Frank. They seem surprisingly cool with it, perhaps because they have a bigger deal to worry about.

For some reason to be revealed later, their retiring supplier is willing to turn over his business to them if they can arrange a night with Sadie Hill, a presumably ordinary civilian. The deal is all arranged until some last minute re-negotiating leads to Hill’s unlikely death. Obviously, they need a dead ringer—someone like Lacey, the cokehead who somehow became romantically involved with the irresponsible Mulligan. Anyone can tell this is a bad idea, but Holt has his own debt with Vincent to repay and Joe needs cash to finance his prospective cooking show (yes, really). It is a dream that would give him the respectability to pursue Mila, who also happens to be a concerned friend of the missing Hill.

In the years between Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, an indie crime film like Lookalike used to be released nearly every month. They all had hip urban characters who are secretly interconnected in ways they never realized and periodically do shocking things to keep us on our toes. Lookalike is a lot like those films that are like other films, but at least Gray keeps the energy level up and screenwriter Michele Gray skips the self-referential indulgences. Since it is ostensibly set in New Orleans, one might also hope for some distinctive local jazz, but no such luck.

Maybe he is not exactly terrific, but somehow Jerry O’Connell is engaging enough to maintain viewer attention. He also develops some surprisingly effective screen chemistry with Scottie Thompson, quietly overachieving as the fate-challenged Mila. In contrast, Justin Long, the Mac Guy, is aggressively annoying and problematically light weight as unreliable Holt. At least John Corbett and Steven Bauer get with the program, hamming it up just enough as the villainous partners. Frustratingly though, The Lookalike criminally underutilizes Luis Guzmán’s Vincent.

The Lookalike is dark and reasonably diverting, but nothing a genre fan has not seen done more stylishly dozens of times before. While it has already had its New York run, it may very well see some more festival and specialty attention following the announcement the Grays would write and direct the American remake/reboot/re-conception of Takashi Miike’s Audition. Right, good luck with that. It’s not like the original made a strong impression. For now, The Lookalike is just sort of okay, but there are probably worse ways to spend a winter night in Alaska. For cult fans of Guzmán and Scarface’s Bauer, it screens tonight (12/6) and tomorrow (12/7) as part of this year’s Anchorage International Film Festival.

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