RUNNING TIME 87 minutes
WRITTEN AND directed by Jake Goldberger
STARRING Thomas Haden Church, Elizabeth Shue, Melissa Leo, James Rebhorn
One eyeball out of four
Thomas Haden Church, a pleasant performer of supporting-actor status in clunkers like Tales From the Crypt and George of the Jungle, whose career got a temporary vitamin injection with the 2004 hit Sideways, stars in the title role in Don McKay, a ludicrously pretentious train wreck masquerading as a movie. He plays a loser working as a janitor in a Boston high school who goes back to his hometown for the first time in 25 years to visit his old 1983 yearbook sweetheart, named Sonny (Elisabeth Shue). Sonny is supposed to be dying of the mysterious Ali MacGraw disease from Love Story, but the first indication that something is rotten in Denmark is that while Ms. Shue is a good actress, she’s much too healthy, sexy and zaftig to look terminally ill. Leaping and prancing barefoot through the house in skintight satin lingerie, Ms. Shue looks as healthy as a thoroughbred quarter horse at Hialeah. Suddenly announcing, “I want to spend the rest of my very short life with you,” she takes the celibate, stricken Don to bed, ignoring the evil Marie (Melissa Leo), her stern live-in nurse in three-piece Jackie Kennedy suits, and the strange, possessive Dr. Pryce (James Rebhorn), who cautions her that too much exertion could be fatal. Everyone speaks in the hushed monotone of an oven timer, but just when you think the movie is dead, the doctor attacks Don, who kills him in self-defense with a piece of broken milk bottle and buries his blood-soaked body in the backyard. A few minutes later, Don wakes up in the hospital after an allergic reaction to a bee sting, and Sonny asks him to marry her. Back at home, the photos of Sonny’s ex-husband have been scissored out of every frame in the house, but Don discovers the missing pictures are really of the murdered doctor, whose body has disappeared. Unable to sleep (unlike the audience, which is now snoring), Don starts getting phone calls from the corpse.
What is going on here? Is Sonny really sick? Is the doctor really dead? Is everybody pretending to be somebody other than who they say they really are? And what’s Sonny hiding in the meat locker on the porch? You finally begin to question every character’s sanity when uptight Marie strips off her mall suits to reveal a body covered with tattoos; a local taxi driver recognizes Don as a mental case who left town in shame after murdering the real Sonny decades earlier; and two people get beaten to death with a frozen pot roast.
A study in ineptitude, this mercifully brief movie by writer-director Jake Goldberger proves that even an 87-minute running time cannot be sustained by weirdness alone. Don McKay is labeled a thriller, but it’s such a contrived, club-footed confusion that it comes off more like a surreal comedy with too much air-conditioned Technicolor to even be correctly called a black one. The direction is a discourse in how to administer anesthesia. The overwrought, drug-addled situations are supposed to be gruesome, but they’re actually just plain silly. The stylized dialogue is unspeakable, which might explain why Mr. Church plays the entire film with hollow eyes and a permanent scowl, occasionally curling his lip to a 90-degree angle, his voice never rising above the kind of detached mumble only a dog can hear. It’s a queer and relentlessly unsettling performance, nearly as catatonic as everything around it, in a movie so lacking in cogent reasoning it seems to have been made in a secret code.