Pound of Flesh
Probably the biggest problem with Pound of Flesh – in a movie that
has quite a few of them – is that the supposed criminal of the movie seems
so much more reasonable,
likable and sane than the policeman on his trail.
Angus Macfadyen has done some good, interesting
work as an actor before – for example on the sadly short-lived 2003 ABC
series Miracles – but here he is just allowed to flounder in a morass
of showy “dramatic” and “edgy” moments as the disgraced cop. It is a master
class of method over-acting, this character is constantly impotently lashing
out at nothing, speaking in an affected, mumbling manner and glowering for
no other reason other than the fact that he supposes it would
Disorienting? Emotional? Dramatic?
isn’t. Literally, I can’t think of a worse performance in a professional
film this year. That is really saying something.
a shame, because Malcolm McDowell does some fine work here as a popular
Shakespeare professor at a local college who has a secret life pimping out
his co-eds to local politicians and businessmen.
an interesting, explosive (though not completely original) storyline, one
that the film is able to harness about half of the time.
thing is, the filmmakers can’t seem to decide if they want to make a hip,
edgy social parody or a police procedural murder thriller. The two styles
seem to do battle within the plot structure, giving the whole production a
bit of a schizophrenic air. The pointedly humorous look
at academia and sex
trafficking work out much, much better than the thriller aspects – in fact
Pound of Flesh would have probably worked a lot better if it had
jettisoned the murder subplot. There was certainly enough intriguing
material here without it.
film title comes from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice – a play
discussed in the professor’s class.
It was an
unfair penalty that the money-lender Shylock insisted upon from a bankrupt
man who defaulted on a loan. The film has it’s
own take on what are fair and unfair punishments in modern life.
movie was written and directed by Tamar Simon Hoffs – the mother of 80s rock
star Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles. Simon Hoffs has been bouncing around
Hollywood for decades, but her writing-directing career had previously
mostly consisted of her 1987 wannabe star vehicle for her daughter, The
Allnighter. (Not surprisingly, Susanna never acted again after the
failure of that film, despite the fact that she is married to well-known
director Jay Roach of Austin Powers and Meet the Parents fame
– though she did have a cameo as one of the members of Austin Powers’ band.)
Tamar Simon Hoffs also wrote a 70s b-movie called Lepke with Tony
Curtis and has been involved in several shorts
and indies over the years.
are introduced to Professor Noah Melville (McDowell) in voiceover – in which he
points out that sex is the one profession in which women are paid more than
men, which is why men immediately made it illegal.
a legitimate – if not exactly earth-shattering – point, so legit in fact
that his character repeats it later in the film.
Melville appears to have a perfect life. He is smart, loves his job, is
well liked, well off, influential, dotes on his beautiful (much younger)
wife and daughter and appears to have tenure.
his sidelight as pimp appears to be somewhat altruistic. He isn’t in it
for the money – his girls get “scholarships,” the guys get attention and
everyone enjoys free love. In his eyes, it’s a win-win situation. The
girls love him – though he resists their teasing, because he is faithful to
his wife. He has several powerful clients, including the dean of the
college – played by 70s movie star Timothy Bottoms of Paper Chase
fame, who frankly gives Macfadyen a run for his money in the over-acting
sweepstakes here. In fact, only Melville’s immediate superior – a still bitter
apparent former lover played by Dee Wallace of ET and Cujo –
has anything bad to say about Melville at all.
movie opens on a somewhat explicit lovemaking scene in which a young woman
shares a bed with a man (who conveniently has a blanket over his head the
whole time) and a shotgun – a bit of sex play that goes terribly awry
and ends with her lying dead on the floor.
case falls to Det. Kelly (Macfadyen), who has recently been disgraced due to
his alcoholism and his new partner Beck (Elizabeth Rodriguez).
Kelly gets an instant hate-on for Prof. Melville, because… well we never
know for sure. Because Melville is well liked by his students? Because he made a
pithy joke at Kelly’s expense? Because he revels in the earthly pleasures
that the recovering alcoholic detective has to avoid? Whatever the reason,
Kelly becomes determined to prove that Melville had something to do with the
killing, even though there is absolutely no evidence to support that
police here several times make huge leaps of logic in their detective work…
all of which oddly turn out to be correct. This seems like sloppy
screenwriting, though it would be interesting to find out how many
explanatory scenes ended up on the cutting room floor when this eventually
gets a DVD release. Still, Tamar Simon Hoffs has
no one to blame but herself; she is writer, director and producer here.
begins a war of wits between the suave, charming classics professor and the
glowering, bitter cop. Of course it would be a more interesting war of wits
if Det. Kelly didn’t appear so consistently witless.
said, when Pound of Flesh focuses on its central conceit – whether
the professor is playing with fire by trying to take his beliefs in “free
love” to an extreme and whether he deserves to be destroyed for his somewhat
naïve utopian ideals – it is rather consistently interesting social
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: November 27, 2010.