Tuesday, January 06, 2015

88: Katharine Isabelle is Out for Revenge

In this case, that number does not refer to the number of keys on a piano. It could well be the number of times director-co-screenwriter April Mullen flashes forward or backward along her temporally fractured narrative. The number also seems to hold some significance for the black-out prone heroine of Mullen’s 88 (trailer here), which releases on DVD today from Millennium Entertainment.

Her name is Gwen or perhaps Flamingo. She has just come to in a roadhouse diner in front of a huge plate of food. We soon learn Gwen/Flamingo was on the warpath a short while ago, looking for some payback from the men who killed the love of her life. She knows her gangster employer Cyrus is somehow behind it all, but the exact details are sketchy. However, once she reached the diner, a switch was flipped in her head. She is now completely lost and confused, especially when she discovers the local sheriff’s deputies are highly upset with her. Ty, her apparent accomplice, will try to keep her at-large and on-target, as she waits for the world to start making sense again.

When a complicated time-skipping narrative structure works, it can be mind-spinningly rewarding, as with the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination, opening this week. When it doesn’t, it can be an awful headache. Admittedly, 88 sort of comes together down the stretch, but most of the film feels forced and unnecessarily convoluted. Even though it mostly makes sense at the end, Mullen and co-writer Tim Doiron lose sight of the whole point of a revenge thriller, denying us the vicarious satisfaction of vengeance taken good and hard. Frankly, the implications are rather messagey, making you wonder if Mike Bloomberg underwrote the film.

A simpler approach probably would have borne greater fruit, especially with up-and-coming cult star Katharine Isabelle (American Mary) as the traumatized vigilante. Keep it simple. Point her and Ty towards the bad guys and let them go. Indeed, you can see why Isabelle’s geek fanbase continues to grow. She is quite effective in both her assertive and passive timelines, while looking good in tight, bloodstained wardrobe.

Doiron might have over-complicated the script with Mullen, but he gives the film regular energy boosts as Ty. Likewise, Mullen chews the scenery quite enjoyably in her too brief appearance as Lemmy, the illicit gun dealer. Of course, Christophe Lloyd is no stranger to playing heavies, once again maintaining his standards of bug-eyed, erratic villainy as Cyrus. It is also cool to see Michael Ironside do his thing as the world weary sheriff.

There are a number of cleverly realized scenes in 88, but it labors under the weight of its temporal shifts and ultimately takes itself too seriously. Still, it has enough fan favorites, like Isabelle and Ironside, to justify some time-killing on Netflix, but it is not something you will feel compelled to add to your collection of physical media. For the faithful and the curious, 88 is now available on DVD and BluRay from Millennium Entertainment.