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A Hero for Our Times

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In Redbelt, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, a jujitsu instructor with an affinity for cops. (He teaches the Brazilian variation, which is heavy on wrestling holds.) The opening gives Mamet a chance to do his specialty number: the character that intones lessons for combat that end up being lessons for life (which is, of course, a series of power struggles). This time, though, the protagonist has an Eastern tilt: He thinks defensively. Everything is a force: Embrace it or not. Deflect it—why oppose it? Conquer your fear and you’ll conquer your opponent. Ejiofor is a great Mamet spokesman. He internalizes the lines—he internalizes everything—so you’re not aware of all the finicky punctuation. Like Forest Whitaker, in Jim Jarmusch’s ludicrous Ghost Dog, he can speak of the spirit and honor of the samurai without making you long for John Belushi.

Early on, we learn that Mike has never fought competitively and also that he’s short of money, a source of irritation for his sex-bomb bookkeeper wife (Alice Braga). It’s no surprise that he ends up preparing for battle, but the road to the ring is rich in sudden reversals. Should you ever wake up to find yourself in Mamet Land, here are a few survival tips: Movie stars and their agents will bestow instant money and power and withdraw them just as capriciously. Wives and girlfriends will always go for the mother lode. Joe Mantegna is not to be trusted. Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamet’s wife) is especially not to be trusted.

For a change, Mamet gives us a guileless woman (Emily Mortimer), a lawyer even, although early in the film she’s strung out on drugs and hasn’t had the chance to formulate schemes. But Mortimer and Ejiofor make an irresistible Rocky and Adrian. The final fisticuffs are rousingly good, although everything around them (the crowd, the media, the jujitsu master nodding in approval in the green room) is preposterously bad. Never mind: Onward. I can’t wait to see Mamet try his hand at sci-fi, Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Rebecca Pidgeon distributing the pods.

The hero of Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely is a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) enticed by a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) to an impersonator commune in the Scottish Highlands. There he finds a menagerie of international wannabes, among them Curly, Larry, and Moe; the pope; and a hilariously foulmouthed Abe Lincoln. Everyone is dear except Marilyn’s husband, Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant), a controlling little Fascist. As the group copes, sadly, with a flock of infected sheep and, hopefully, with rehearsals for its new show, Korine cuts to a flock of (sheeplike?) nuns being exhorted by Werner Herzog to test their faith by leaping out of a plane without parachutes. Herzog is playing a priest, but he’s not much of an actor, and the subplot seems like a metaphor for visionary directors and their sacrificial-lamb performers.

Mister Lonely reveals that the punk abrasiveness of Korine’s youth has been replaced by a lyrical self-pity—the apparent upshot of a decade on the skids. I’m glad he has pulled himself together, but the film is pretty ramshackle, full of obvious group improvisations that fail to spark and an overdose of bathos. The best parts are Luna’s Michael Jackson dance moves, which eerily conjure up the man—himself a kind of impersonator—and do justice to the movie’s most intriguing line: “There are no truer souls than those who impersonate.”

Iron Man
Directed by Jon Favreau.
Paramount. PG-13.

Redbelt
Directed by David Mamet.
Sony Pictures Classics. R.

Mister Lonely
Directed by Harmony Korine.
IFC Films. NR.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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