What a mind-bogglingly strange road has been traveled by director Bob Rafelson. There were those early days helming episodes of The Monkees, followed by the world acclaim for his Five Easy Pieces and the popularity of a smattering of later movies. And now this misbegotten Rafelson mess is being thrust upon us by Mac Releasing, a small-time company that seems to specialize in putting out movies almost no one ever sees — or is likely to want to.
Having been unceremoniously parked on a shelf for nearly two years (it’s easy to see why), Deed has now been just as unceremoniously dumped into a handful of theaters for no apparent reason other than the fact that it could be (the direct-to-video route would have been much wiser). The movie started at 7:15 p.m., and even with trailers and adverts, it was over by 9. But if you’d asked me as I left the theater, I’d have sworn I’d been slogging my way through it for at least three hours; I felt like I was in some bizarre time warp while trying to stay awake.
Deed is based on a 1924 Dashiell Hammett story called “The House on Turk Street” (and it was shot under and until recently known by that title). Hammett would go on to pen such crime-fiction classics as The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and The Thin Man, but apart from an ironic ending that prefigures the one in Falcon, you’d never guess the author’s connection to this film from the onscreen evidence.
The screenplay by TV writer Christopher Canaan (he created TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger) and Steve Baranick (The Last Seduction) is, of course, updated and fleshed out. The updates work, more or less (more on Rafelson’s terms than Hammet’s), but the fleshing out nearly always seems superfluous.
The basic Hammett premise of a cop happening to land in a house of bank robbers is workable enough, even though dragging in more overt sex and computer technology seems a bit at odds with the simplicity of the story. Some of the ideas have the air of being grafted on from later Hammett stories (Doug Hutchinson’s psychotic Hoop feels like a modern variant on Falcon‘s “hopped-up gunsel” Wilmer), but most smack of having no raison d’etre beyond padding a short story out to feature length. The most glaring example of this flimsy construction comes in making detective Jack Friar (Samuel L. Jackson) a diabetic. This detail is so built up that it looks like it must be leading somewhere, though it never really does; it just eats up screen time.
There was probably some sense of daring — or at least departing from type — in casting the normally active Jackson in a role requiring him to spend the bulk of a movie tied to a chair. Whatever the case, it doesn’t make for very compelling viewing. A lot of work had to have gone into populating a film with the likes of Jackson, Milla Jovovich, Stellan Skarsgard, Joss Ackland (sporting an unconvincing American accent) and Grace Zabriskie, and still coming up with cinematic Sominex. In any case, Deed manages that feat something swell. There’s no chemistry between any of the actors, and the movie’s every attempt at generating suspense or concern over the characters falls flat.
Admirers of the cast or of Bob Rafelson would do all concerned parties a very good deed by not witnessing their combined embarrassment.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke