Has anybody ever loved you that much, detective? To kill or die... for you?
-Salma Hayek, in LONELY HEARTS
Movie-Hype (#714) - LONELY HEARTS
I don't often see a brand new release at Blockbuster I've never heard of, especially one that stars John Travolta, James Gandolfini and Salma Hayek. Maybe that happens to you, but you're not supposed to be the movie expert. Normally when something like that happens it means the film has sat on a studio shelf for a while, which could be a distribution problem, but usually means it's not a great film.
However, I was curious to see how Travolta and Gandolfini would work together as 1940s detectives on the trail of the "Lonely Hearts Killers," a true story, or so the DVD box would have me believe. So I took a flyer.
The result is an interesting if uneven mix. The film never pops with true menace like the superior SE7EN, but at the same time, I didn't spend half an hour at a time bored senseless like I did for THE BLACK DAHLIA.
Here's the deal: Jared Leto is Ray Martin, a small-time con man, bilking lonely women out of their money. He meets up with Martha Beck (Salma Hayek), who decides she can't live without him and the two join forces to run longer-range cons on women (especially those with lump sum death benefit checks for G.I. husbands.)
Martha is not a patient woman, and gets jealous that Ray is "pretending" to love these lonely women, and kills one of them, behavior which only escalates as the pair moves onward and upward. (In real life, the pair killed a dozen people, but thankfully, we only see a few.)
On the surface, this is an interesting set up for a movie; a woman who can't live without her man but whose jealousy takes the pair down the path of murder. I think most men have dated a girl like that. Some of you are doing so right now.
The first problem is Leto, who just cannot pull off the role convincingly. Jude Law would have been a much better choice. Much bigger than that, though, is Salma Hayek. Don't get me wrong. I have no problem believing a woman that unbelievably gorgeous and sexy could be neurotically psycho and insecure. (Believe me: I know how messed up hot girls can be.)
Apparently, in real life Martha Beck was a rather large unattractive psychopath. Not trying to set back the cause of feminism here, but that would have been much more believable, especially in the 1940s. I would have liked to see someone like Lindsey Hollister in the role. She's a great actress who happens to be quite heavy. She's not ugly, but I think they could "plain" her up and the audience would have an easier time understanding why a woman would go along with these cons, pretending to be the "sister" while the man sleeps with all these different women.
I've seen FRIDA, and I admit there is not much you can do to make Salma Hayek anything but gorgeous, but they don't even try. To see her jealous of all these widows and older women looking like she does….they couldn't even manage to find her a dress that didn't hug the women's figure! That said, Hayek acts her heart out as she always does, so if you're reading, Salma, I'm not hating.
On the other side of the film are Gandolfini and Travolta. It's not magic, but they are both solid and have a nice chemistry that feels like they've been partners for some time. A third cop played by Scott Caan is so horrifically miscast that he becomes more like Gandolfini's little kid brother than an actual policeman, but I let that pass.
Travolta's character has some interesting things going on. When the movie starts his (also police) wife has just killed herself. The way they find out about the Lonely Hearts duo is that one of the victims kills herself after finding Ray and his "sister" in flagrante dilecto. We've seen this motif before: Travolta is trying to solve his own wife's death as well as the case. I actually wish they'd dwelt on this more, but instead we get a subplot involving Travolta's angry teenage son and an office romance, the girl played by Laura Dern, who seems to give terrific underrated performances everywhere I look.
(Just the other day I was stopped at a red light and happened to glance out my side window only to see Laura Dern giving a terrific underrated performance. That joke sounded better in my head.)
It is interesting to note that the movie is written and directed by Todd Robinson, who is the grandson of the of the man Travolta plays. I guess some family angst was being loosed.
I should also mention that while I was not personally affected, some of the murders are brutal and may upset some people. Both suicides are shown graphically, and there's an implied murder of a little girl. Finally, both electric chair sessions are shown, which might disturb.
All in all I can't say I was blown away impressed, but I did enjoy the film. I think my favorite part was actually Gandolfini, who called people he didn't like "shit stick." That just seemed like a great '40s guttural cop term. I also liked how hard Selma Hayek tried to be ugly and insecure, and how willing she was to go to the mat and kill for her boyfriend. Those kinds of girls are always keepers.