Suspending disbelief is a part of watching most any action film, where bullets fly like birds and mayhem explodes as easily as a shaken soda can. But even in such a contrived movie world, it's asking far too much for us to accept that Noomi Rapace would be hounded as a "monster" for a little scaring around her left eye.
It's just one of the many silly leaps of logic taken in the lifeless "Dead Man Down," a film that brings together two lost souls bent on vengeance. Colin Farrell stars as a brooding gangster, Victor, who's infiltrated the brutal gang of Alphonse (Terrence Howard) to avenge the deaths of his wife and daughter. He's joined in revenge by Rapace's Beatrice, who spies him across from a neighboring high-rise, and blackmails him into killing the drunk driver that crashed into her.
I've had pimples worse than the marks left on Beatrice's face, but she's mad with murderous fury at the blemish and - despite her obvious, unmarred beauty - is chased by rock-throwing kids for her supposed disfigurement. "Dead Man Down" either can't stomach having its star actress appear actually maimed, or it's simply too lazy to make Beatrice's motivations plausible.
It's the first Hollywood film for Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, who made the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," starring Rapace. "Dead Man Down" starts with vacant sidewalk musings by Victor's friend and cohort Darcy (Dominic Cooper), who, while holding his newborn, reflects on how "we're not meant to be alone." Deep stuff, indeed.
Alphonse, played with typical velvety suavity by Howard, is receiving mysterious messages that read "you will realize" with fragments of a photograph. He's starting to panic by lashing out at his best guesses of the source.
Victor is drawn to Beatrice, who lives alone with her mother (Isabelle Huppert). The fine French actress is bizarrely out of place, and her small role is a bit of awkward farce about her hearing aid and Tupperware.
The screenplay by J. H. Wyman ("Fringe") is squirm-inducing in its preposterous dialogue and haphazard plotting. When Victor and Beatrice go out for dinner (shortly before she corners him about killing her assailant, a scene in which she extravagantly spins Victor's car out of control), they describe themselves as if on a Match.com date. They each admit drinking causes them to swear, and then flatly trade two four-letter expletives. The words would be better groaned from the audience.
Victor carefully plots the final, bloody flourish of his revenge. But Darcy is closing in on his real identity, and his growing intimacy with Beatrice is making Victor, with increasingly furrowed brows, silently question his mission. There is some solid noir atmosphere, courtesy of cinematographer Paul Cameron, but the tension finally bursts as inelegantly (with a pick-up ramming into a mansion) as it was it manufactured.
The film was partially financed by the WWE, so perhaps it's fitting that "Dead Man Down" should climax with the automotive equivalent of a body slam.
"Dead Man Down," a Film District release, is rated R for violence, language throughout and a scene of sexuality. Running time: 118 minutes. One star out of four.