J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Return to Sender, a Payback Thriller with No Pay-Off

A victim of a violent sex crime is dead set on vengeance. She is also determined to remodel her front porch. It is like Death Wish, with Bob Villa. Eventually, she will get down to the business of payback, but first, let’s match some paint chips with Fouad Mikati’s tone-deaf Return to Sender (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Miranda Wells is a slightly germophobic RN about to be promoted to the surgical team, until she is brutally raped by William Finn. The sociopath is not particularly bright, so he is quickly caught and convicted. However, Wells finds herself trapped in a spiral of depression. Then one day, she starts writing Finn in prison. Her first few letters are returned, marked you-know-what, but eventually they start corresponding and even meeting face-to-face during visiting hours.

Of course, as a model prison in what must be the speediest criminal justice system in the country, Finn is soon paroled. Naturally, he looks up Wells, who puts him to work erecting some flimsy lattice-work around her porch. Sure, she will get medieval on him, but not while there are still home improvements that need to be done.

Return is just a sad excuse for a vigilante movie. Inexplicably, after making us sit through the interminable carpentry scenes, Mikati keeps the actual pay-off entirely off-screen. Talk about having contempt for our time. To make matters exponentially worse, Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett’s saggy script unambiguously suggests Wells is a bit of a sociopath herself, thereby implying her need for vengeance is somehow a misbegotten product of her extreme persona. One also sort of picks up on a misogynist vibe— one that kind of-sort of darkly insinuates she maybe had it coming, which is profoundly problematic.

Rosamund Pike commands the screen as Wells, but she is definitely revisiting last year’s Amazing Amy terrain here. Unfortunately, the rest of the casting defies all logic. Frankly, it is hard to believe Pike and Nick Nolte exist in the same universe. As father and daughter? Sorry, just don’t see it. Similarly, it is hard to buy into the scrawny, vegan-looking Shiloh Fernandez as a terrifying sex criminal. Yet, it is probably most depressing to see indie icon Illeana Douglas completely wasted doing a walk-on as a crass realtor.

It is all just a bizarrely misconceived mess that somehow goes out of its way to alienate every possible audience segment. We don’t even get to see the final finished porch. Not recommended for anyone, Return to Sender opens tomorrow (8/14) in New York at the AMC Empire and also releases on iTunes.

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