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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Don’t Say a Word (review)

I’ll Tell

He had the perfect life: A successful Upper West Side psychiatric practice. A fabulous Upper West Side apartment. A gorgeous wife and a charming daughter, both paragons of loveliness and goodness of heart, neither of whom seems to mind terribly much that he spends more time with his patients than with his gorgeous wife and charming daughter. And now he could lose it all.

I’m not sure I get it. Are we supposed to care? How often can we see Michael Douglas slink around Manhattan in expensive overcoats, driving expensive cars, slouching ghoulishly around women young enough to be his daughters, before the novelty of it wears off? Are we supposed to derive some sort of pleasure from watching him ooze toward a barely dressed Famke Janssen with the intent of inflicting a sponge bath upon her… and are we meant to believe that the loss of future such opportunities would be a bad thing for either her or the audience?
Later, he will prepare, in their gourmet kitchen overlooking upper Broadway, a sumptuous breakfast for his gorgeous wife and charming daughter. On Thanksgiving morning, no less. A perfect life.

The astonishing marvelousness of life as a rich Manhattanite is meant to thrill us, I suppose, because it might as well be mythic fantasy for us mere mortals, the ones in the undesirable tax brackets. We’re meant to wonder at how comfortably the better 2 percent lives, and be all the more startled when such luxury, such an impossibly glorious lifestyle, is snatched away from they who deserve so much more than we do to live such a life.

I, for one, am getting damned tired of a ritzy street address, a killer wardrobe, and Calphalon cookware substituting for things like character. And plot.

The kid, Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak: The Patriot, The Cider House Rules) — 8 years old, cute as a button, and sassy to boot — gets kidnapped right from the Conrads’ luxury apartment. Never mind that luxury Manhattan apartment buildings have doormen who don’t admit anyone they don’t know and insist on announcing all visitors. Nope. A team of bad guys stroll in, right under everyone’s noses, and take the kid. And then, for ransom, they want her dad, Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas: One Night at McCool’s, Traffic), to extract a certain 6-digit number from the head of a psychiatric patient, Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy). So Nathan heads off to the hospital to visit Elisabeth. After hitting on Nathan — for even 20-year-olds cannot resist the increasingly cadaverous Douglas — Elisabeth sings to him: “I’ll never tell-ell.” What won’t she tell? Well, she won’t tell. “You want what they want,” is all she’ll say.

The problem is, she has no way of knowing what They — lead by Patrick Koster (Sean Bean: Ronin) — want, and They have no way of knowing they want it. Those kinds of details — you know, getting the characters all into the story with one another — clearly were deemed less important than making sure we understood how much closet space the Nathans’ pad has. The entire film is built on this kind of house- of- cards preposterousness, wherein if you think for two seconds about any of it, it becomes utterly ludicrous.

But to distract you from the absurd plot, Douglas gobbles into his cell phone a lot, trying desperately to come across like Mel Gibson in Ransom and failing miserably. As Nathan’s wife, Aggie, Janssen (X-Men, Made) lounges around the apartment nearly naked, almost getting sponge baths and almost removing her tiny little tank top (their “overheated” apartment doesn’t seem to inspire Nathan to prance around in his skivvies, so we must be thankful for small blessings). Jennifer Esposito, as a New York City police detective shoehorned into the story, goes from an indifferent, barely-in-the-movie presence to wham! over-the-top screaming fits, overbaked emotion coming outta nowhere. Bean and Oliver Platt (Simon Birch, Bulworth), as a shrink colleague of Nathan’s, are two talented actors utterly wasted.

But the cute yuppie spawn is in danger! As is the lease on the 184-room apartment with 12-foot ceilings and hardwood floors! Plus, Thanksgiving dinner is ruined! The horror! So if she’ll never tell-ell, Mike– I mean, Nathan must somehow drag it out of her, because Sean-o has imposed a ridiculous deadline that serves no purpose except to create a “ticking clock” that’s supposed to make us care about Nathan and his perfect family and his perfect life and the prospect of it all coming to an end.

Yawn.


MPAA: rated R for violence, including some gruesome images, and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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