Catch .44 is unpleasant, unfocused, and strange – a film that tries to be something like a crime drama, a comic book thriller, and an exploitation film all rolled into one, but somehow hovers just out of range of all of them. Its structure is awkward. It begins with a few select clips from the story’s end, then backtracks to the start of the final shootout, then backtracks even further to the events leading up to the shootout before flashing forward and showing just a little bit more of the final shootout. We backtrack again, then go forward to the shootout, then go back in time a couple of years, then go back to the shootout. I’m not here to make a case against nonlinear storytelling, although I will say that it requires engaging characters and a hell of a lot of style in order for it to work. On both accounts, this movie barely gets by.
Taking place in rural Louisiana, it stars Malin Akerman as Tes, officially a waitress for a sleazy strip club. Unofficially, she works for an aging, pecan-loving crime boss named Mel (Bruce Willis). She was hand-picked by him a few years ago because of her ability to pickpocket unsuspecting men. Her cohorts are sisters Dawn (Deborah Ann Woll) and Kara (Nikki Reed). The scenes with only the three women work the best, in large part because of their dialogue, which is just smart enough to be interesting but not so smart that it sounds like it came from a philosophy textbook. It’s not mindless banter; personality comes through. In an early scene, for example, the three of them get into a strange but engrossing conversation about the definition of compromise and the art of faking it. It’s a bit arbitrary, but I enjoyed listening to it just the same.
The plot involves the three women doing one more job for Mel. He wants them to go to a diner and intercept a drug shipment before it has the chance to be exchanged. Sounds simple enough. But Kara is uneasy about the whole thing. Why is he sending them to a middle-of-nowhere diner forty miles out of town? Why are there cars in the lot when she thought no one was supposed to be there? And most importantly, why would Mel give them another job after the mess they made of their last one? Tes is annoyed by Kara’s suspiciousness. After all, they’ve done this kind of thing before, and Mel hasn’t ever done them wrong. Dawn tries to smooth things over by telling a dirty but well structured joke about nuns going to confession. Eventually, they find themselves in the diner. The first part of their visit is repeatedly played throughout the film, albeit from slightly different angles.
As it turned out, Kara was right to feel suspicious. I cannot reveal why, except to say that it results in a three-way Mexican standoff. By itself, it goes on way too long. Intercut with lengthy flashback sequences involving bizarre and enigmatic characters, it becomes downright confusing. The official plot synopsis courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes describes this as a “deadly cat-and-mouse game,” although I think it would be more accurate to call it a disorganized mess. The reason for it happening is a very unlikely, very odd turn of events. There are specific lines of dialogue so jarringly out of place that they’re likely to generate lots of incredulous laughter. And then there’s a final twist so predictable that you don’t have to actually see the movie to know that it’s coming.
There’s a man played by Forest Whitaker who uses multiple names throughout the film. We don’t get his real name until the final scene, and even then, it’s hard to take what he says at face value. This man is such a deep mystery that he doesn’t even know who he is. When we first see him, he pretends to be a stranded motorist with a stutter. Then he pretends to be a jokey cop with a heavy southern drawl. Then, while still in uniform, he slips into a Hispanic accent that was phony even when Al Pacino used it in Scarface. He often works in the phrase, “Fresh as a daisy,” and at a pivotal moment, he will produce a daisy from his pocket as a gesture of love.
As for the visual style of the film, it’s hard to say anything kind about people getting blown away. Many characters get shot in this film, which means that there will be plenty of spurting blood and splattered brain matter. Much easier on the eyes are the moments when the main characters are introduced; the shot freezes, the camera instantly zooms in on a face, and a name appears in big, bold letters. It looks like a comic book panel. This doesn’t happen very often, though. I suspect the sole purpose of Catch .44 was to be escapist entertainment, which is fine except that it’s hard to be entertained when you have to piece together a strained, surprisingly bewildering plot and make sense of oddball characters. One of them is a sheriff played by Brad Dourif, who spends his two scenes doing nothing except creeping through crime scenes with his gun drawn. I guess this is his way of taking a break from all those horror movies.
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Anchor Bay Entertainment