Robert Pattinson, former vampire heartthrob, is making up for all the lost time he spent making money and getting bad reviews. From Water for Elephants to playing Lawrence of Arabia in Queen of the Desert, he’s shown an admirable determination to earn respect at discount prices. In a gruesome, violent crime thriller called Good Time he discards the soap and water and grows a filthy beard to play a bank robber with a mentally handicapped brother. This one he could have skipped. Vile and repulsive, Good Time is just under two hours of pointless toxicity.
Good Time is directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, two brothers with little discernible talent other than a certain appeal to young audiences that revel in screen anarchy. They specialize in glorifying the underground culture of drugs and thugs avoided by sane people everywhere. The setting is the borough of Queens, an outpost on the New York horizon few Manhattan mainstream moviegoers have ever seen except through the windows of taxis on the way to the airport. It begins with a clumsy bank robbery by a pair of scruffy, incompetent brothers—Connie (Pattinson) is a petty crook with a prison record, and his brother Nick is a mentally challenged cretin played by Benny Safdie, who co-directed with his real-life brother Josh, who in turn co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein. Benny Safdie plays his character’s intellectual disability with enough mulish clichés to send friends and families of the mentally handicapped everywhere to the barricades in protest. Wearing African Halloween masks and sunglasses, the brothers scrawl a note to a bank teller, who hands over bags of money, and Connie escapes without incident while he hapless Nick gets caught and ends in jail. Connie calls on his brainless, whining girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in what amounts to little more than another gum-chewing walk-on) to max out her mother’s credit cards for Nick’s bail, but a vicious brawl with another inmate at Rikers Island sends Nick, more dazed and confused than ever, crashing through a plate-glass window, landing him in the hospital. In a botched rescue attempt, Connie springs the wrong patient in the wrong wheelchair—a talkathon prison parolee named Ray (Buddy Duress)—and they both end up hiding out in the apartment of a 16-year-old girl who supplies them with drugs and sex and seems to enjoy being a victim of statutory rape so much that she happily hands Connie the car keys so she can tag along with her captors to a deserted horror-movie theme park in search of a bottle of liquid LSD. Are you still with me?
GOOD TIME ★★
Much mayhem ensues that skips and hops from one violent set-up after the next, while the movie drags on ad infinitum. Somehow the initial plot about Connie’s obsessive need to protect and save his brother gets lost in the shuffle. I guess it’s supposed to be a crime comedy peppered with plot twists, offbeat characters, and pop songs. But none of it makes much sense. The acting by a mostly amateur cast is over the top, the writing is genuinely ludicrous, and the characters so contrived that the movie defies even the most basic logic. On the plus side, I must admit the Safdie brothers infuse their plunge into the dark and gritty side of New York after dark with a feverish ambience, drenching it in neon lights and giving it an undeniably tense, neurotic energy, like a nightmare from which you will never wake up. Still, I find the fawning praise for Robert Pattinson because he grew a beard, discarded his tan and wallowed in the dirt to play a freak somewhat premature, and I find it alarming that some critics have dopily compared the film to Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, which it in no way resembles. A great, disciplined and uniquely modern excursion into film noir territory Good Time is not. At best, it’s a frenetic, disjointed and totally surreal look at people in crisis, seen through the eyes of other people in crisis. It all takes place in one night, but it seems to last days.