Thursday, May 7, 2015

88 (Review)

88 (2014)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by April Mullen
Written by Tim Doiron

Starring Katharine Isabelle, Christopher Lloyd, Tim Doiron, Kyle Schmid, Michael Ironside

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Canadian filmmaker April Mullen unleashes a whirlwind of violence and cryptic chronologies in the mostly-entertaining action-revenge film 88. Despite its relatively surprise-free plot and exhausting narrative structure, 88 does succeed in one big way: cementing star Katharine Isabelle (American Mary) as one of Canada's top female badasses.

Some girls you pick up. Some girls fuck you up.
Gwen (Katharine Isabelle), a bar tender at a shady strip joint, regains consciousness in a diner with no clue of how she got there except for a bloody stump for a pinkie finger and a backpack full of gumballs and a deadly hand gun. In a panic, Gwen begins to retrace her steps and piece together her fractured memory. She comes to realize that she's been living in a violent dissociative personality fugue under the the identity of "Flamingo": Gwen's unbridled, destructive, cigarette-smoking, ass-kicking, trigger-happy killer of an alter ego. Remember that scene in Tim Burton's Batman Returns where Michelle Pfeiffer goes nuts in her apartment after getting pushed out a window into an alley of cats? Yeah, it's a whole lot of that.

The rest of 88 plays out in three directions:

  • 1.) a post-Flamingo chronology following Gwen as she's swept up by violent encounters with cops (Michael Ironside), former criminal employers (Christopher Lloyd turning in a wonderful performance as the film's heavy), and fellow unhinged revenge seekers (Tim Doiron) she's befriended or pissed off as Flamingo.
  • 2.) Gwen's "Famingo" chronology, detailing her hot-mess of a bloody kill-spree and obsession with revenge
  • 3.) Flashbacks in both chronologies to the pre-Flamingo incident that caused Gwen to suffer such a tragic, dissociative personality break in the first place.
On our block all of the guys call her flamingo / Cause her hair glows like the sun.
As you might imagine, this kind of narrative structure can get quite complicated and overstuffed with characters. It's an interesting concept at first -- a trashier, late-night version of Christopher Nolan's Memento -- but by the middle of the second act the nauseating back-and-forth between timelines begins to wear both the plot and the characters perilously thin. By the end, things get back on track as the film's action-revenge narrative finds the tragic, emotional ground it's been lacking all this time. Alternatively, if 88 had allowed itself to get even more bonkers, it would have been even better. Director April Mullen makes a cameo as a taxidermist / arms dealer in an absolutely bananas scene that's just this side of brilliant but, sadly, only a whisper of the crazy originality unrealized in 88.

Great Scott, Christopher Lloyd is bad-ass in 88
Despite its wearying narrative structure, 88 boasts some thrilling performances by Lloyd, Isabelle, and Doiron. and it showcases an electrifying visual style that should have genre fans sitting up and taking notice of director April Mullen. 88 is flawed in many respects, but it crosses the finish line as an indie with attitude that is bound to satisfy some of your late-night cable TV or VOD cravings for tawdry tales of revenge.

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