Well I saw this picture a long time ago, but now with all of America waiting anxiously for THE MATRIX PART 2: RETURN OF THE MATRIX and THE MATRIX PART 3: BEYOND MATRIXDOME, I thought it would be a good time to go back and take another look at the Wachowski brothers first picture, this stylish neo-noir with a side of lesbians.
It’s funny to think that these guys have now done 3 MATRIX movies in a row, and the only other movie was this one, which they made only to prove to the studio that they could direct THE MATRIX. At the time nobody knew what the fuck the Matrix was so they just thought they were trying to be like the Coen Brothers when they made their first movie BLOOD SIMPLE or the Dahl brothers when they made their first movie RED ROCK WEST but really they were just being the Matrix Brothers doing a demo reel.
This movie really is a throwback, a very retro femme fatale/rip off the husband film noir type deal, with modern camera trickery and language, and the one twist that the Fred Macmurray character is a gal. Gina Gershon (from FACE/OFF) plays Corky, the most unconvincing butch lesbian in the history of Cinema. She’s supposed to be tough because she wears an undershirt covered in grease, and she works on her truck alot. She’s an ex-con (tell me about it) who meets a mafia money launderer’s trophy wife (academy award winner Jennifer Tilly, from BRIDE OF CHUCKY). They want each other pretty bad, next thing you know Corky’s getting fisted and they come up with a plot to rip off Jennifer’s husband for millions of dollars.
Although I suspect the Matrix Brothers got off on watching the lesbian sex, I guess it’s not all that exploitative. They don’t really make a big deal about them being lesbians, they seemed to get things right according to the consultant on the dvd commentary track, and if it wasn’t Gina Gershon it could’ve been some pretty boy tv actor pretending to be tougher than he really is. Also they got this whole hand theme going which is pretty funny. Joe Pantoliano plays the husband, and he unknowingly interupts the gals’ first romp, and immediately shakes Corky’s hand, not knowing where it’s been. “You must be good with your hands” he ends up saying. Get it?
The look of the movie is very distinctive. Very nice use of shadows and lots of slow, hovering, show offy camera movements. You can definitely see the MATRIX connection. They’re not frinetic, give you whiplash kind of camera movements, just very deliberate moves out of gun barrels and into toilets and along phone cords following conversations. There are many clever ideas: using the thinness of the walls to pass along information or create tension, hiding the money in paint buckets so when it gets stolen it leaves a trail, and so a guy can get shot and bleed into a pool of white paint, and that kind of stuff.
In one of the real good moments in the first half of the movie, Pantoliano bursts into the apartment carrying a huge armload of money covered completely in blood. “Oh my god!” says Jennifer Tilly. He says “Don’t worry, it ain’t mine.” Next thing you know he’s cleaning the bills one by one and ironing them.
Despite all this, the first half of the movie is pretty bad. The way they set up the characters, with that gloomy atmosphere and marginal acting… I don’t care how stylish it is, you start thinking softcore porn on Showtime. I know the dialogue is supposed to be retro but it’s hard to take shit like Corky’s monologue about stealing:
“To me stealing has always been alot like sex. Two people want the same thing, they get in a room, they talk about it. They start to plan, it’s kinda like flirting. It’s kinda like foreplay. ‘Cause the more they talk about it the wetter they get. The only difference is I can fuck somebody I just met. To steal, I need to know someone like I know myself.”
I mean jesus. But really, it’s pretty much exactly halfway in, they start their scheme to rob the husband and suddenly it turns into one of the great neo-noirs. They trick the husband into thinking one of his partners ripped him off, and he believes it so thoroughly that he ends up killing the guy AND his big shot italian father, and then he has to pretend he still has the money and find it and give it back to the boss AND hide the dead bodies, and the worse a hole he digs for himself, the worse things get for Jennifer Tilly because she has to help him if she wants him to not figure out that it was actually her that took the money.
There are many inventive ways to create tension and the actors playing the mafia guys are great. There is some horrific violence, some humor, laffs, everything you want. A good time at the movies if you can get past the Shannon Tweed style first half. Keep up the good work Matrix Brothers.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.