Friday, April 10, 2015

Broken Horses, Lame Movies

It is not exactly a western, but Of Mice and Men is certainly a novel of the American west. It clearly wasn’t conceived as a bordertown noir—and with good reason. Vidhu Vinod Chopra will demonstrate just how ill-conceived such a story would be. For his American directorial debut, Chopra transfers his Bollywood mega-hit Parinda to the Southwest, but something is definitely lost in the Spanglish translation that is Broken Horses (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Buddy Heckum is the older brother, but Jakey is supposed to be the responsible one. Buddy is a bit slow, but he sure can shoot a gun. When their Pa, the sheriff is murdered, local crime lord Julius Hench tricks Buddy into thinking he is avenging his father by killing Hench’s enemies. Soon, the elder Heckum Brother is a full-fledged member of the gang. That must make him a Henchman. Meanwhile, Jakey Heckum maintains his blissful ignorance pursuing his violin studies in New York. However, with his marriage to Vittoria, a fellow struggling musician, soon approaching, Jakey returns home to brief Buddy on his best man duties.

Much to his shock, he finds his brother is totally mobbed up. Afraid the younger Heckum will challenge his hold on Buddy, Hench tries to have Jakey killed. He somehow survives, but it is quite the wake-up call. Determined to save Buddy, Jakey decides to take down Hench’s outfit from the inside by joining the organization. Fortunately, Hench was looking to recruit a violinist. Actually, he wanted a second viola player, but he will have to make do.

The very notion of Alton Yelchin’s nebbish Jakey Heckum talking his way into a ruthless border gang is seriously credibility challenged. While Yelchin can be a hit-or-miss actor, he completely throws in the towel halfway through Horses. The whole point of the film is to watch him belatedly accept responsibility for Buddy and save him from his soul-sucking life of crime. Yet, he spends the entire third act setting up house with Vittoria on Buddy’s ranch, letting the brother is supposed to protect handle all the thriller business.

Clearly, Yelchin is trying to vanish into the background. As Buddy Heckum (seriously, why not just call him Friendly Helzapoppin?), Chris Marquette induces cringe after cringe with a performance suggesting Lennie Small with anger management issues. Likewise, Vincent D’Onofrio over-indulges all his annoying tics and scenery chewing shtickery, but since he is the villain, it is somewhat forgivable. Probably only María Valverde (seen at Sundance a few years ago in the infinitely superior Madrid, 1987) merits any notice for bringing some warmth to the film as Vittoria.

This movie is just an absolute mess. Somehow it manages to be exploitative and boring at the same time. The title is a reference to putting down horses that pull up lame, which might be the only fitting aspect of the entire shooting match. Not recommended, Broken Horses opens today (4/10) in New York, at the AMC Empire.