From The Parallax Review Vaults: Giallo (2009)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Giallo was for the “Bargain Bin” column of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

Every month, at least one movie is quietly shuffled onto DVD despite having major stars and intriguing premises. Bargain Bin seeks to find the direct-to-video features unjustly buried by studios.

It’s tempting to assign Giallo the following tagline: The Adrien Brody movie that Adrien Brody doesn’t want you to see. After all, he has sued to keep the film from being released in the U.S. on any format. Despite his protestations, the film was released in the U.S. on DVD this week. While it might make a better story to claim that the reason Brody doesn’t want the film seen is because he realizes what a towering disappointment it is, that would not be the truth. Apparently he sued because he claims he wasn’t paid for his work on the film. I suppose this is a good reason to file a lawsuit, but he should have also thrown in how embarrassed he is by the finished film as a supplementary reason.

Perhaps more damning to the film’s credibility is that its legendary co-writer/director Dario Argento has disowned it. Claiming the producers recut the film behind his back, he has expressed disappointment with the version of the film that played at festivals and has now found its way to DVD. But after viewing the cut that he’s disappointed in, I feel it safe to say that no matter how this footage was pieced together, the result was going to be a massive turkey.

Brody stars as Inspector Enzo Avolfi, an Italy-born, New York-raised cop who has returned to his Italian home to pursue serial killers. Into his latest serial-murder investigation walks Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner), the concerned older sister of the latest potential victim. After making some half-hearted attempts to shake Linda, Enzo allows her to tag along as he searches for her sister and the sadistic killer who has abducted her.

Not only is the plot ridiculous with the contortions Argento goes through to explain why an American is working as an Italian police officer, it’s incredibly clichéd. Enzo is an amalgam of brilliant movie and television cops who take their job to an obsessive degree. This isn’t the worst archetype to start with, but Argento and Brody do nothing interesting with the character (save for a few hallucinatory flashbacks to his childhood that work fairly well). They reduce him to an exposition machine, explaining the half-assed motivation for the killer while spitting out hard-boiled lines of dialogue that briefly made me wonder if the film was supposed to be played as a straight-faced send-up of serial killer films.

Argento is well past the point of his career high in the late ’70s, but this script is still far beneath him and doesn’t play to his strengths, despite a title that pays homage to many of his best films. There are a few moments of the graphic violence associated with these films, but this time around, they are unimaginative and not as transgressive. He also seems more interested in over-explaining the plot as the film goes along. This is a very un-Argento trait as one of the main criticisms against him has always been that he is more interested in crafting scares and gory shocks than in telling a coherent story. But judging by his handling of the fairly derivative plot in Giallo, it may be a good thing that he has never been all that interested in the story. Even worse is the fact that the film doesn’t look like an Argento film. It lacks the fluid camerawork and garish color scheme that has become his signature over the years. The best Argento films are the ones that lull you in through a nearly hypnotic use of overhead crane and tracking shots before they hit you with a carefully calculated bit of ultra-violence that is just as scary as is it taboo. Here, the film is drably lit, taking place in boringly familiar basements and apartments made all the more uninteresting by the workmanlike use of a locked-down camera.

I really have to wonder what Argento and Brody saw in this story. Perhaps Argento was lured by the promise of a bigger budget and the chance to work with an Oscar-winning actor and Brody found the prospect of working with Argento too good to pass up. This is purely speculation on my part, because neither of them seem to have their heart in the film (even with Argento co-writing the script and Brody producing). If they were duped by conniving producers as they both claim (and Brody’s claim of not being paid is backed up by the fact that it seems that the production did run out of money — the film doesn’t have an ending, so much as it just ends with the most unsatisfying final shot I’ve seen in a long time), that’s too bad, but no amount of money was going to fix this film.

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