‘Courier X’: Film Review

Courtesy of International Artists Agency
A puzzle with too many pieces.

The real-life explosion of a commercial jet is at the center of a sprawling, globe-spanning conspiracy drama starring Udo Kier.

Courier X might not be “the film the CIA tried to stop,” as its promotional materials claim, but the many-stranded conspiracy drama could’ve been a contender. Placing elements of the agency in a global web of underworld activity, first-time filmmaker Thomas Gulamerian posits that it engineered the 1996 explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800. He offers details both compelling and tedious, without shaping them into a blood-pumping thriller.

The best thing about the feature, which takes its theatrical bow two weeks before segueing to VOD via Gravitas Ventures, is the collection of finely weathered faces among its ensemble of character actors. Along with the strong use of New York locations, they give the film a dramatic weight. Writer-director Gulamerian squanders his raw material, though, in an overload of plot and exposition. More succinct writing and tighter editing could have yielded a solid B picture.

Among the uneven performances, Udo Kier is reliably watchable as a former Stasi officer with ties to the CIA as well as to diamond smuggling. In the title role, first-timer Bron Boier has an ultra-flat affect that might make sense for a mercenary who sees himself as “nothing but the mailman,” but it never stops being distracting. He plays Trenlin Polenski, who travels the globe smuggling diamonds and other contraband in his body. Through his work for Kier’s Nathan Vogel, a “classified asset” of the CIA, he becomes the “neutral” called upon to help bring down Flight 800. The reasons for the agency’s elaborate payback plot to stage an “aviation interruption with no post-visibility” — i.e., to bomb a plane in a way that can’t be detected — are the least plausible aspect of the speculative story.

Gulamerian begins the film with actual news reports of the crash (speaking of distracting, an anchor other than Brian Williams might have been a better choice). From there he moves back in time to introduce various CIA players, including the director (Lee Shepherd) and several agents (James C. Burns, Chris Boas, Ron Gilbert), some of whom are men of conscience and integrity, some deeply compromised.

Included in the film’s male-centric network of high-stakes deceit and big money are a New York mob boss (Gary Francis Hope), his henchmen (John Bianco, Anthony Mangano) and, inevitably, a former Contra (Ralph Guzzo), who blackmails the CIA with sensitive info about its activities in Nicaragua. A more public challenge to the agency arrives in the form of reports by investigative journalist Gary Webb (Jay Disney) purporting its role in the country’s crack epidemic. Brief scenes of Webb have an extraneous, stilted quality. It’s too bad his subplot isn’t better integrated into the story; Gulamerian caps it with footage from the extraordinary town meeting in Los Angeles when the CIA director addressed charges of drug trafficking.

There’s plenty to chew on, and most of the story's threads are grounded in reason. But some are certainly flat. The movie loses its initial sense of mystery and suspense as Gulamerian ploddingly lays out the pieces rather than creating sparks of intriguing connection. His eye for locations and action particulars bodes well for future efforts, though, if he can add a surer grasp of dramatic momentum to his arsenal.

Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Production: International Artists Agency
Cast: Udo Kier, James C. Burns, Lee Shepherd, Gary Francis Hope, Bron Boier, Iva Stelmak, John Bianco, Ralph Guzzo, Anthony Mangano, Chris Boas, Ron Gilbert, Jay Disney, Richard Gleason, Ben Van Bergen, Andrzej Krukowski, Tom Morrissey
Director-screenwriter-producer: Thomas Gulamerian
Executive producer: Brian David
Directors of photography: Mark Conrad Alkiewicz, Jonathan Dale Bell
Art director: Chris X. Carroll 
Composer: John Avarese

Not rated, 134 minutes