J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Blue Iguana: Sam Rockwell Gets Capery

Usually, Hope-level diamonds have disappointingly prosaic names, often referring to their place of origin. The “Pink Panther” is fictional, but the “Martian Pink” is a real enough outlier that sounds so romantic, you’d think jewel thieves would always be trying to steal it. The “Blue Iguana” is that kind of rock. It has already been stolen, so a motley crew of Yanks and Brits might as well steal it again in Hadi Hajaig’s Blue Iguana (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Just plain Eddie and his pal Paul Driggs should not even be allowed to travel to London, because they are parolees, but Katherine Rookwood can be very persuasive. She needs them for a simple hold-up job, but it gets complicated when somebody dies. It really wasn’t their fault—honest. However, both Rookwood and the Yanks both sort of double-cross each other, but at least she also prevents her gangster employer Arkady from putting a hit out on them, at no small financial cost to herself.

With nothing to show for their efforts so far, Rookwood, the Yanks, and their British accomplices decide to double-down on an even bigger score: the Blue Iguana. A Middle Eastern prince gave it to his hard-partying Euro wife, before giving her the boot. To get back into the royal family’s good graces, she needs to show the stone is safe and secure. Of course, she lost it long ago, but it looks like Arkady is planning to sell it back to her. Rookwood and company would like to fulfill that deal instead.

Despite a rather high body-count, Blue Iguana is a likable caper film that draws tremendous energy from its two leads. Granted, Eddie is rather gruff and grizzled, but he still represents an unusually light-comedic character for Sam Rockwell. Frankly, he seems to be enjoying the change of pace, but he is just as fully committed to the grumpy crook as he was to the snarling indie rogue’s gallery he is known for. Likewise, Phoebe Fox is just terrific as Rookwood, portraying her as a smart, mordant professional, who is also necessarily idiosyncratic—hence the company she keeps. Their scenes together crackle with electricity.

In contrast, a little of Ben Schwartz as Driggs the man-child goes a long way. It is also a bit disturbing to see Amanda Donohoe (from Lair of the White Worm) portraying the man-eating cougar mother of Arkady’s thuggish enforcer, who is the focus of some smarmy humor. However, the great Simon Callow classes up the joint in his scenes as Rookwood’s flamboyant criminal Uncle Martin.

A lot of fans will be very curious to see Rockwell in such a different context, so it is nice to be able to assure them that he does not disappoint. Hajaig wrote and helmed a breezy romp that actually skips over the Tarantino era, drawing inspiration from the uber-cool 1980s and the colorfully tacky 1970s (both of which were much more fun). It is a nice balance of attitude and nostalgia that should garner enthusiastic word-of-mouth. Recommended for caper movie fans, Blue Iguana opens this Friday (8/24) in New York, at the Village East.

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