“Domino”: Blow Up Doll
Guaranteed you haven’t seen a movie like this in a while. Maybe not since that proudly preposterous slay-fest, “Natural Born Killers.” Or possibly even the original blood-gushing, bullet-riddled comedy-by-default, “Scarface.” This is like them, sort of, but definitely not like anything else.
An actual biopic about Domino Harvey would make a meaty action flick. It’d be about a movie star’s daughter and one-time fashion model who turned her back on wealth and glamour, became a butt-kicking, scum-pummeling L.A. bounty hunter and wound up OD-ing in a bathtub last June, at age 35, on the eve of a trial that could have put her away for 10 years for dealing methamphetamines. That’s some story. But for pyromaniacal director Tony Scott, it apparently wasn’t wild enough. He’s used Harvey’s life as the armature for his movie, but as he admits (in the first words flashed onscreen: “This is based on a true story … sort of”), he’s made a lot of it up.
In this, he had the valuable help of screenwriter Richard Kelly, the man who wrote and directed the wondrous-strange “Donnie Darko.” Kelly has packed “Domino” with more out-of-the-blue funny lines and insanely knotty plot permutations than a movie of this sort would ordinarily deserve, or bear. The cast is a cut above, too. Keira Knightley (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), the talented, 20-year-old English actress, plays Domino
(who was also English). She’s game for the role, but her main function is to look super-cute in tight jeans, black leather and lethal armaments, smoking a lot and chewing gum very aggressively. The other actors, especially those who play her bounty-hunting associates, are more substantial. Mickey Rourke, who’s definitely back to stay, brings real heft and comic texture to the proceedings, as do the witty and wildly smoldering Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez and Scottish-Indian newcomer Rizwan Abbasi, who plays the team’s bomb-wielding Afghani van-driver.
The picture opens with a blood-caked Domino telling a prim FBI psychologist (Lucy Liu) about her role in a just-failed $10-million armored-truck heist. The rest of the movie is told in careening flashbacks, amid much gunfire, many explosions and a soundtrack so boomingly hyperactive that even when there’s nothing blowing up onscreen, gigantic synth-rumblings fend off any hateful sonic void.
The plot is impossible to follow, but that’s okay — it’s not worth following. There’s an awful lot of it, though. We see the young Domino trying to cope with the divorce of her famous parents. (Mom was a Euro model; her father was the late actor Laurence Harvey, star of the 1962 “Manchurian Candidate.”) We see her being scarred for life by the death of a pet goldfish (which explains the goldfish tattoo we later glimpse on her neck). We see her starting nunchuk practice at age 12. We see her punching out a sorority sister in college, and then stomping a fellow fashion model in the middle of a runway show. (The real Domino claimed to have been employed by the Ford modeling agency, although execs there apparently have no memory of her.) Then we see her elbowing her way onto an L.A. bounty-hunting team run by a shady character named Claremont (Delroy Lindo, solid as always). She’s uniquely qualified for this work, it turns out — when her team bursts in on a room full of heavily armed South Central gangbangers, she breaks the ice by shedding her clothes and offering them a lap dance.
After being named Bounty Hunter of the Year in 2003, Domino and her partners are approached by a whack-job TV producer (Christopher Walken — perfect) who wants to feature them in a reality series to be called “The Bounty Squad,” hosted by two members of the totemic 1990s teen series “Beverly Hills, 90210″ (Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green, pretty funny playing themselves). Soon, with camera crew and celebrity hosts in tow, Domino and the boys are kicking butt all over L.A. and, when they run out of kickable butt there, in Las Vegas, too. Cars screech and swerve down highways, runaway RVs fly through the air in flames and director Scott gooses it all along with an unending fusillade of film-tech flourishes that might embarrass even Oliver Stone: mad-fast cutting, blurry slo-mo, freeze frames, double-exposures, blown-out lighting, hyper-saturated color. There’s not one dull moment in the whole film, if by “dull” you mean any scene in which people simply talk.
What talk there is amid the din ranges from “Showgirls”-style arch-moronic (Domino sizing up Rourke: “He lost a toe in a prison riot — the man is a warrior”) to surprisingly wry (when Rourke’s viewing of a motel porn film is interrupted by someone bashing a chair through the TV screen, he says, “I just paid twelve-ninety-five for that movie — I wanna see how it ends”). There’s also the priceless, quasi-lesbian moment when Domino, profiling her neck tattoo for Lucy Liu, says, in a sultry murmur, “You’ve been staring at my goldfish all afternoon.”
I can’t imagine anyone who would disagree that this is a ridiculous movie. But is it fun-ridiculous, like “Scarface”? Might it go on to become a cult item? I suspect not. Cult movies are pictures whose enormously nonsensical qualities can be savored over and over again. It’s hard to imagine a lot of people wanting to sit through the way-over-amped and mind-numbingly action-crammed “Domino” a second time. Or maybe even a first — Monday’s box-office stats will tell that tale.
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