— by Larry Carroll
Watching the freewheeling film "Domino," which features guest appearances by musicians like Macy Gray and Tom Waits, flying Winnebagos, thieving first ladies and cameos by former "Beverly Hills, 90210" stars, you might well find yourself musing on the timeless question posed by Faith No More's 1989 hit single, "Epic": What is it?
"It's wicked," diminutive, South London-born Keira Knightley recently declared, employing the Brit slang as adeptly as her titular character wields her nunchucks. The film's origins and head-spinning sense of style, meanwhile, lend "Domino" a sensibility as multifaceted as that of the recently deceased woman it purports to portray.
"She was a huge fan of ['Domino' director] Tony Scott, and a huge, huge fan of 'True Romance,' " Knightley remembered of the real-life Domino Harvey's affection for the director's influential 1993 romance-adventure. "It was one of her favorite films ever."
Those who have seen Scott's most recent effort could make the case that the filmmaking veteran was this time around heavily influenced by … well, himself. Lovers on the run? Good people shaded with evil, while evil people exhibit redemptive qualities? A heavily guns-and-drugs-driven narrative leading to a winner-take-all standoff? Check, check and check.
"It's 'True Romance' on speed," confessed an unapologetic Scott. "It's got a different momentum than 'True Romance,' but it has the same darkness in terms of the humor and sweetness."
More than a decade after the Quentin Tarantino-penned "True Romance" helped usher in the mid-'90s mini-Golden Age of stylized, amped-up Hollywood noir, that film's lover-protagonists, Clarence and Alabama, have been supplanted by bounty hunters Domino and Choco (Edgar Ramirez) who, along with father-figure Ed (Mickey Rourke), attempt to trade in their dysfunctional backgrounds for a surrogate family circle and a classic ride into the sunset.
Christopher Walken, too, has traded in his notorious, ethically-challenged-mobster role from "True Romance" for that of an ethically challenged television producer, while the brilliant stunt-casting of Brad Pitt in the 1993 film (his spot-on characterization of a dimwitted stoner remains one of the highlights of that movie) has been matched this time around by the equally inspired oddball casting of the inimitable Dabney Coleman as a casino owner.
This is decidedly not a "True Romance" remake, however; while that film was presented as pure fiction, "Domino" is more ambiguous. Yes, there was a real Domino Harvey. Yes, she was indeed a gorgeous, highly trained bounty hunter who traded in her life of privilege for one of sex, drugs and the bashing-in of apartment doors. She was the child of a famous actor and a supermodel, reportedly named after the female lead in the 1965 James Bond movie, "Thunderball." In addition to her modeling and bounty hunting, she ran a London nightclub, worked as a ranch hand in San Diego and for years was in and out of rehab centers. Proudly bisexual, she was a musician, a feminist and every bit as fascinating as she was troubled.
She was found dead in her bathtub in her West Hollywood home this past June. She was 35.
"We developed two screenplays, and they were bio-pics and boring," Scott recalled of the struggles he faced while adapting Harvey's story. "They were really flat. And then ['Donnie Darko' writer/director] Richard Kelly came along and while he was stuck in line at the DMV one day, trying to get his license, he said, 'I've got it! I know where the story begins and ends, with this woman over here called Lateesha.' So he started the whole story over, based on this woman dealing fake driver's licenses."
Enter Lateesha, played with exuberant flair by Mo'Nique ("The Parkers"). Through her, the audience is introduced to her conman husband, Claremont (Delroy Lindo), a group of gun-toting women disguised as Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush with mafia goons on their tails, and two reality show producers (Walken and Mena Suvari) who've hired two faded TV stars (Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering, as themselves) to shadow Domino and her friends as they attempt to straighten the whole mess out.
Oh, and Lateesha even goes on "The Jerry Springer Show."
The historical liberties taken by the film are such that even Oliver Stone might raise an eyebrow.
"I don't believe that Domino Harvey had a reality show following her around," admitted Ziering.
"There is a real Choco," offered Ramirez, a Venezuelan actor who makes his English-language debut in the film. "He still lives; he is out there [somewhere]. I have seen him, and had access to letters that he wrote from jail to Domino and to Tony seven or eight years ago."
"That's what makes it a cool film," argued Knightley. "It's based on reality, and you're kind of stretching that reality and saying, yes, weird things happen — but it is possible. When you're watching it, you never quite know where you are; you never know what's real and what isn't, and that's what makes it exciting."
Scott's direction in the film employs old-fashioned stunts, state-of-the-art CGI and a hyperkinetic editing technique that makes most contemporary music videos feel like "My Dinner with Andre."
"You were covered all the time," Ramirez remembered of working with Scott's crew, which had up to 12 cameras pointed at an actor during any given scene, allowing for dozens of cutaway possibilities for every line of dialogue. "When you have [multiple] cameras, you're covered. You've got to be all the time there, and it also helps you to really let go, to experiment."
"Oh my God, he had seven cameras working," Ziering said of a technique likely never utilized on an Aaron Spelling set. "He had a hand-crank camera at times; each one is designated for a special effect. The crank would cause this effect where the image would blow apart and come together. All that work, all that editing, really heightens the intensity. It heightens the excitement."
"I was aware of multiple cameras," added Lindo, "but I didn't know it was seven. In terms of the finished product, ultimately that is Tony's purview. That's his choice, not mine. All I have to do is play the scene truthfully, as I know how to play it, and let Tony worry about how he is going to cut it together and present it."
So, once again, what exactly is "Domino"? A two-hour music video? A "Ray"-like biographical drama? "True Romance 2"? All of the above? None of the above?
"Domino is a fast, crazy, rock-and-roll ride of a film," Knightley responded to the question, grinning.