“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. So said Andy Warhol in 1968. Nowadays, that either means throwing a strop on X-Factor, or chucking a cat in a wheelie bin in suburban Coventry.
In this 2001 film, however, it meant two Eastern European maniacs carrying out and documenting a series of brutal killings, hoping to sell the rights to the story and become rich in the process. Robert De Niro and Ed Burns are, respectively, the police and fire investigator hot on their trail.
For two thirds of the film, this is a slick, smart detective thriller, following the parallel paths of the killers and the cops in pursuit. De Niro and Burns are an engaging double act, offset by a decent calibre of supporting actors (Avery Brooks, Charlize Theron, Kim Cattrall). The direction is polished and stylish, with a rich vein of humour permeating throughout. Sadly, it goes off the boil in the final act, becoming a messy satire on the hazards of courting the media. All pretence of believability is jettisoned in favour of an indulgent revenge fantasy. Kelsey Grammer is eminently punch-able as the sleazy news anchor with affectations of friendship. His decision to broadcast a tape of one of the murders to a rapt Times Square is one of the acts that tips the balance of credibility.
It’s a shame, really, because the film was shaping up to be an intelligent contribution to the genre. Robert De Niro holds the thing together with his portrayal of a camera-friendly cop who is, literally, in bed with the media. The two villains are crazy, but memorable, with their desire for Hollywood fame overriding any sense of morality or self-awareness.
I can see why the film was slated at the time – the third act nigh on completely compromises the promise of the opening hour and a bit. But even if it fails miserably as an effective satire, it still scores in the entertainment stakes. De Niro puts in an almost jaunty performance, offering a reminder that his talents go far beyond hamming it up in Meet the Fockers.