Monday, April 13, 2015

[Review] Ned Rifle

Indie auteur Hal Hartley closes the Henry Fool trilogy with Ned Rifle. Hartley's distinct, serio-comic
notions are certainly in full force here, and the diehard fans will eat up the intentionally off-kilter vibes, but the majority of everyone else will find it hardly bearable.

After several years of being in witness protection under the care of a devoutly Christian family, Ned (Liam Aiken) decides to leave in order find his father (Henry) and kill him for destroying his mom's (Fay) life--that's essentially the direct quote he bluntly tells the minister as he steps out the door. Along the way, he meets Susan (played by Aubrey Plaza), who is linked to Henry's past.

Since this is the final third of a trilogy, it definitely helps to have seen the first two films Henry Fool (1997) and Fay Grim (2006) in order to know the backstory of Ned's parents and fully get the callbacks and payoffs. However, it isn't essential, because the films take place so many years apart and sort of stand alone as their own stories. But chances are, if you're seeking out Ned Rifle in the first place, you've probably already seen the previous films.

This lackadaisical yet lucid, deadpan style doesn't really strike as hit or miss; it sort of just leaves indifference. It's decidedly anti-thriller. A lot of the dialogue is flat and mundane, but a few lines bring amusement and chuckles. Near the beginning, Ned says "Hi Claire" in a manner reminiscent of Tommy Wiseau's "Hi Doggie" line in The Room. The script also dabbles in a number of philosophical musings, sprinkled with shavings of existential crisis and irony. The background music sounds like it's from a work training video or a public television special from the '90s. However, as a whole, the film is too tedious, overly talky, and it's blandly shot to a fault. Aubrey Plaza is the saving grace (kind of). She blends in perfectly with this world while still managing to be a standout.

The Henry Fool films occupy an obscure space on the dramatic (or non-dramatic) spectrum that makes even the most oddball indies feel more like Hollywood. But sucking the life out of something and subverting classical cinema in order to be offbeat doesn't necessarily make it interesting. You can't really call this an acquired taste if there is no taste.


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