In the latest batch of low-profile VOD releases, Richard Dreyfuss is a vengeful mob boss, DMX is a gruff police captain, Cody Christian is a one-handed MMA fighter, and Noémie Merlant is a naked poet.
Faking a Murderer (VOD August 6): Given the massive popularity of true crime documentaries, it’s surprising that there aren’t more parodies. As the Netflix series American Vandal proved, the genre is ripe for satire, but as Faking a Murderer proves, it’s not easy to get it right. Filmmakers Stuart Stone and Adam Rodness play themselves as opportunistic, not particularly bright content creators looking to jump on the true-crime bandwagon. They discover some online videos of a man who may be confessing to murder, and pitch a show in which they track him down and investigate his alleged crimes. Most of the movie involves the main characters bumbling through their efforts to conduct an investigation and constantly sniping at each other, and the stars make themselves deliberately annoying. Tony Nappo is amusing as the unhinged suspect, but Stone and Rodness don’t get around to confronting him until near the end, and the story then abruptly turns so dark that the meager humor is completely lost. Grade: C
Notorious Nick (VOD and select theaters August 6; DVD August 17): Real-life MMA fighter Nick Newell has had a remarkable career, but that doesn’t count for much in this perfunctory biopic. Born with only one hand, Newell (played here by able-bodied actor Cody Christian) parlayed his skill and determination into an XFC championship in 2012, and Notorious Nick follows his rise to success, from his high school wrestling days through dealing with bullies and personal tragedy. There’s the requisite tough-but-fair coach (Barry Livingston) and the supportive-but-worried mom (Elizabeth Röhm), plus multiple training montages and some poorly staged MMA bouts. Kevin Pollak brings some wry humor to his scenes as a world-weary promoter, but the acting is mostly strained, and director Aaron Leung struggles to manufacture extra melodrama to give Newell’s story the proper sports-movie structure. As is often the case with movies like this, the brief documentary clips during the closing credits are more compelling than all the preceding drama. Grade: C
Curiosa (VOD and virtual cinemas August 13): Marie de Régnier and Pierre Louÿs were renowned poets and novelists in late 19th-century and early 20th-century France, but director and co-writer Lou Jeunet is more interested in their sex lives in this languid period drama. Marie (Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant) is married to the stuffy Henri (Benjamin Lavernhe) but is in love with his friend Pierre (Niels Schneider), with whom she carries on a long-term affair. She’s fervently devoted to Pierre, a capricious libertine who cavorts with other women and treats them all as fodder for his art, which includes erotic photography. Marie is defined solely by her relationship to Pierre (whom Schneider plays with a petulant sneer), and there’s little sense of what makes this a grand, enduring romance. Rather than evoking a literary revolution, Jeunet putters around the same handful of rooms, using an anachronistic synth-heavy score as a placeholder for daring artistry. There’s copious nudity, but not much passion. Grade: C+
Crime Story (VOD and select theaters August 13): It’s difficult to take 73-year-old Richard Dreyfuss seriously as a fearsome mob boss on a rampage, taking out guys less than half his age, even if his character is meant to have a sort of grim death wish. Dreyfuss’ retired crime lord Ben Myers sets out for revenge after thieves break into his house, steal his cash reserves and all his valuables, and traumatize his dementia-afflicted wife. Meanwhile, his police detective daughter Nick (Mira Sorvino) pleads with him to reach out to his other daughter, who’s on her deathbed, and to help his soon-to-be-orphaned grandsons. Dreyfuss intermittently narrates the disjointed movie in a raspy tone that doesn’t match Ben’s onscreen voice, and the plot is full of unnecessary detours, most involving a shady congressman (D.W. Moffett). Dreyfuss and Sorvino are both miscast, and writer-director Adam Lipsius fails to create a believable or coherent criminal underworld. The plot twists are arbitrary, and the cathartic, sentimental resolution is unearned. Grade: C-
Fast Vengeance (VOD and DVD/Blu-ray August 17): The late DMX may not have had a stellar acting career, but he deserves a better swan song than this dismal revenge thriller. Compared to the rest of the cast, he comes off fairly well, playing a cynical police captain investigating a murder in the world of underground motorcycle racing. The murdered man’s brother, played by veteran stunt performer D.Y. Sao, comes to town seeking answers, and when the police are no help, he takes matters into his own hands. Contrary to the title, the vengeance here is quite slow, and it requires Sao’s Shen Long to become a street racer himself, despite having no experience. Sao is a martial-arts expert, but writer-director Pearry Teo spends far more time on tedious motorcycle jargon than on the occasional fight sequences, which are clumsy and unconvincing. Sao can’t carry the emotional weight of the lead role, and the story drags on for nearly two hours before arriving at a baffling, anticlimactic finale. Grade: D