The Limey
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Lem Dobbs
Cast: Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren
NY Distribution Status: opens 8 October 1999 (Artisan)

Grade: B-

It's probably not a coincidence that Soderbergh's two weakest films to date were both written by Lem Dobbs; like their previous collaboration, Kafka, this is little more than a dubious exercise in style, its underbaked narrative garnished with generous dollops of visual brio. From the opening shot -- the usual fade-in and/or "so-and-so presents" titles eschewed in favor of an abrupt explosion of blurry color; the title character coming gradually into focus as he approaches the lens; "THE LIMEY" suddenly superimposed in huge, clunky block letters -- Soderbergh gives the film a deliberately old-fashioned veneer: specifically, a mid-'60s, vaguely Point Blankish vibe involving lots of obscure flashbacks and flash-forwards, dialogue frequently out of sync with picture, etc. Not entirely inappropriate, given that both pro- and antagonist are played by notable '60s icons (most of the Stamp-related flashbacks involve footage from Ken Loach's Poor Cow, in fact); I didn't even much mind that both actors were used strictly iconically, which is to say that neither one was actually required to act. (Stamp scowls; Fonda frets; that's about it.) That the movie offers nothing more than a mildly pleasant nostalgia for a bygone cinematic era, however, eventually proved somewhat irksome. It's possible, I suppose, that Dobbs' scripts are eloquent and poetic and make for superlative reading -- Soderbergh's a smart fella, and he's been raving about the guy for a decade now -- but whatever's special about them doesn't seem to translate to the screen, at least so far; the revenge plot that ostensibly drives The Limey is about as inventive and gripping as that of The Crow, with the eponymous Englishman and Super(anti)hero equally implacable, equally tormented, equally tiresome. The ceaseless visual invention compensates for the dramatic/thematic void, to a surprisingly large degree; still, when Linklater regular Nicky Katt makes a late and startlingly vivid appearance as a seedy contract killer -- having wandered in, it seems, from a far less mannered movie playing elsewhere in the multiplex or somewhere down the block -- he might as well be wearing a t-shirt reading "ENJOY ME WHILE I LAST."