Cat Run: Film Review

Cat Run Janet McTeer 2011
Lleju Productions
Outdated, discount-store comic violence with one wonderful performance.

Janet McTeer stars as an articulate female assassin in director John Stockwell's low rent comic caper.

A brazenly efficient and articulate female assassin nearly worthy of a Tarantino or Coen Brothers movie sticks out from amidst the schlocky criminal muck of Cat Run, a self-consciously sleazy comic crime saga composed of facetious elements whose shelf life has long since passed. Shot in Serbia and Montenegro for reasons that scream financial necessity rather than narrative logic, this low-rent, R-rated Rush Hour-ish comic caper could have been several notches better with more charismatic leads and some dialogue upgrades but still would have felt like a genre hand-me-down. This indie-distributed item, which opens April 1 on 100 or so screens in a half-dozen markets, could develop a limited following among young males who crave gratuitous nudity and gruesomely creative violence, but mainly in home viewing platforms.

Opening with an upscale Euro party scene peopled by Eurotrashy older men and naked young women that could easily be mistaken for a documentary about the personal life of Silvio Berlusconi, the picture jumps around frantically at first as director John Stockwell tries to connect the diverse characters and plot elements with some manner of style. The one he finds involves a lot of arbitrary camera moves and abrupt cuts as well as title cards introducing every character with less than creative labels--"The Exploiter," "The Survivor," "The Exhibitionist" and so on--as they ooze out of the woodwork of a dozen European glamor spots.

Igniting all the trouble in the first place is the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Christopher McDonald), a kinky sex fiend who sort of accidentally kills a hooker during an intimate moment at the splashy bash. When another escort, Catalina (Paz Vega), makes off with a hard drive containing incriminating surveillance footage, the chase is on, as slinky Catalina, infant in tow, unwittingly wins the assistance of nitwit private detectives Julian (Alphonso McAuley) and Anthony (Scott Mechlowicz), two clueless Yanks, while the Euro baddies enlist the excellent services of hired killer Helen Bingham (Janet McTeer) to retrieve the naughty video.

Helen is the one inspiration in the work of debuting Brit screenwriters Nick Ball and John Niven, who have conceived her as an arguable combination of Margaret Thatcher, Salt and Mary Poppins. Conservatively attired in dressy jackets and long skirts, immaculately well-spoken in an antique upper-class manner and fearsomely good at her job, she shows no mercy for the lowlifes she encounters

in her search for Catalina, torturing them most inventively until dispatching them, but never without the final polite offer, "Do you need a moment?"

It takes a while, but Helen eventually emerges as the hero of the piece. This is partly by default, since the young American dicks are just that. But McTeer, an outstanding stage actress who has never really managed to carve out a screen identity, is entirely commanding here and really takes over the movie by its mid-point; Helen Mirren, to whom she bears a certain resemblance, couldn't have done better.

To blend the comic with the gruesome, director Stockwell premeditates outrageousness with an eye to playing ball in the same league with Pulp Fiction or In Bruges. But for the most part the style feels forced, as if it doesn't come naturally, and he's seriously handicapped by the silly device of the amateur sleuths and the lame banter provided for McAuley, who comes off like a Chris Rock or Chris Tucker wannabe, and Mechlowicz, who emits very low wattage. Vega is fetching, while Tony Curran turns in a lacerating caricature of a profanely incomprehensible Scottish gangster.

As to fulfilling genre requirements, there's an abundance of violence that tries to be funnier than it is and a terribly silly climactic mano a mano showdown between Helen and her betrayer. Soundtrack is largely an unholy hodgepodge of pop tunes.

Opens: April 1 (Lleju Prods. in association with Paladin)
Production: Lleju, Paladin
Cast: Paz Vega, Janet McTeer, Alphonso McAuley, Scott Mechlowicz, Christopher McDonald, Karel Roden, D. L. Hughley, Tony Curran
Director: John Stockwell
Screenwriters: Nick Ball, John Niven
Producer: William O. Perkins III
Executive Producers: Max Winkler, Peter Principato, Paul Young, Ram Bergman, Derrick Borte
Director of photography: Jean-Francois Hensgens
Production designer: Aleksandar Denic
Costume designer: Bojana Nikitovic
Editors: Jeff McEvoy, Ben Callahan
Music: Devin Powers
R rating, 106 minutes