Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Checkmate: More like a Narrative Stalemate
can be a highly cinematic, deeply symbolic game in films like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players, and Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair. In the wrong
hands, it can also be shlock. Try not to think about those vastly superior
films when considering this grade Z chess match-slash-hostage drama. The
so-called “King’s Game” has never been dreckier than it is in Timothy Woodward
Jr.’s Checkmate (trailer here), which releases
today on DVD from Alchemy.
rather supernatural looking gents are sitting down for a friendly game of
chess. Although never referred to by name in the film, the credits lists one as
“Elohim,” the Hebrew and Mormon name for God, and the other as “Lu,” which
could be short for any number of names, like Lucille or Lulu. To sweeten the
pot, Lu suggests they play for the “Deed to Eternity.” I kid you not. It is implied that a clumsy
bank heist is being controlled by their chess moves, even though the standoff
underway seems to have started well before the chess game. However, it is hard
to judge with certainty considering how severely Woodward abuses flashbacks as
a story telling device.
further complicate matters, one of the hostages is the super-pregnant asthmatic
wife of one the SWAT team officers. Another hostage is poor Allen, the unemployed
father of a young boy in dire need of a heart transplant. To collect on his
life insurance policy, Allen contracted Father Dyson, a Roman Catholic priest
who doubles as a hit man, to kill him in a manner that clearly does not look
like suicide. No, I’m not making this up.
we dig our B movies here. We were downright bullish on the British werewolf
western Blood Moon, rather indulgent
regarding Isis Rising (starring
Indo-American pornstar Priya Rai) and generally forgiving of other questionable
Vinnie Jones vehicles like 6 Ways to Die and
Age of Dragons. However, Checkmate just doesn’t have Jack Straw
going on. It is a narrative jumble that looks cheap and unprofessional. For the
first forty minutes or so, Woodward flails about, trying to figure out if there
is anyone in his bargain basement Crash ensemble
worth following for the rest of the film, but after all that exposition, he
still comes up empty.
Danny Glover’s groggy demeanor as “Elohim” suggests Woodward forced him to be
in the film by abducting and drugging him. If so, that is obviously
problematic, but at least it absolves Glover of responsibility for this mess.
Inexplicably, Sean Astin throws away all his accrued credit with Catholics from
Rudy by playing the homicidal Father
Dyson. Good luck explaining that decision to Saint Peter. Fans of Eddie and the Cruisers should also be
warned. They do not want to see Checkmate,
because the years and scripts have not been kind to Michael Paré.
Mischa Barton shows better sense than most of her co-stars, because she spends
the better part of the film trying to hide behind her inhaler. Only Jones really
steps up and assumes any responsibility, deciding the only way out is
way-the-heck-and-gone over the top. As “Lucille,” he gives us something to
watch, but those scenes with Glover make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
This is just a sad, crackheaded excuse for a film. If
it were the least bit competent, the Father Dyson subplot would be rather
offensive, but the plodding Checkmate’s
crimes against watchability are so basic and fundamental, they do not even
allow for such outrage. Not recommended to anyone under any circumstance, Checkmate releases today (9/8) on DVD
and VOD from Alchemy.
Labels: DVD, Vinnie Jones