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BLUE IGUANA (2018) review

September 1, 2018

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written by: Hadi Hajaig
produced by: Hadi Hajaig and Tom Lassally
directed by: Hadi Hajaig
rated: not rated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: August 24, 2018 (limited)

 

The draw in watching the comedy thriller “Blue Iguana” was obviously Sam Rockwell, the recent Oscar-winner who has been a favorite acting presence for years now. Obviously, I’m going to be curious with each role he takes on, but there are times when I’m reminded that great actors can’t salvage a mediocre screenplay, which is exactly what’s happened in this heist movie that tries too hard. Writer/director Hadi Hajaig is attempting to resuscitate an interest in the British crime flicks that put Guy Ritchie on the map, aiming for a wild ride of criminal activity and mishap hilarity, but “Blue Iguana” inevitably becomes a checklist of styles and tropes we’ve seen before. There may be an undeniable lightness to the tone and the cast is certainly game here, but ultimately the story befuddled mess that needed to focus on doing one thing well, instead of taking the kitchen sink approach.

As the movie opens, two ex-cons, Eddie (Rockwell) and Paul (Ben Schwartz), are parolees working diner jobs in New York, when British lawyer Katherine Rockwood (Phoebe Fox) walks in and offers the men cold hard cash to come to London and take part in a plan to steal a blue backpack at the Natural History Museum. Persuaded by the offer, the duo agree to the gig and soon find themselves across the pond (despite violating their parole), joining a couple of other colorful crooks, such as British confederate Tommy Tresham (Al Weaver), but when the job goes south, they find themselves in the crosshairs of local kingpin, Arkady (Peter Polycarpou), someone who’s holding some debts over Katherine’s head. In the aftermath of the botched robbery, Arkady sends one of his own goons, the psychotic mullet-wearing, Deacon Bradshaw (a hilarious Peter Ferdinando) to monitor Eddie and Paul closely as something of a ‘cleaner’, ending up creating an even bigger mess. The stakes increase when the guys catch wind that Katherine and Arkady plan on stealing a gem known as the Blue Iguana, resulting in the Eddie and Paul closely watching Bradshaw’s pub, with is run by his over-sexed mother (an all too brief Amanda Donohoe) with the goal of nabbing the jewel for themselves.

 

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The biggest mistake Hajaig makes is in how he goes straight into boring (and murky) exposition, which is an off-putting sign to unfortunately checkout early on in the movie.  The hows and whys of Eddie and Paul deciding to go to London and the early moments of the pair arriving there are fuzzy. There’s no time developing the two characters, aside from forced banter and flirty quips towards Katherine. Since they display some fun chemistry, the movie could’ve benefitted from some in-depth characterization given to Rockwell and Schwartz’s characters, yet the screenplay wants nothing more but to sell them as a charming action hero and affable comic relief, respectively.

Since the first twenty or so minutes of “Blue Iguana” winds up being disorienting, with murky motivations and vague implications, it’s becomes quite a challenge to keep interest in the machinations of the plot. This is especially true due to the pace in which Hajaig rushes the story along, with swerving camera movements and stop-and-go action sequences from cinematographer Ian Howes (who lensed 2012’s “Cleanskin”, the director’s last crime action/drama starring Sean Bean), that desire to immerse us in the setting of the movie – and instead winds up furthering our disinterest and hoping that Rockwell can rescue the picture. He can’t. Give him a break, he’s just one man. It’s hard enough to believe that an ex-con like Rockwell’s Eddie would have Jason Bourne-type skills in a tight situation. I would’ve muted prefer he use his wits and fast-talking deflection to get out of a tough spot, which would seem more suited for Rockwell and the character he’s playing here.

 

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If you can list off everything that could go wrong in a movie with cocky and dumb crooks, you’ll find it here. The mission doesn’t go well, there’s more to Katherine than she lets on, a goon like Deacon as a loose cannon, etc and so on. When the story tries to imply a growing attraction between smooth-talking Eddie and the quirky Katherine, both of whom share their own unique and unexplored insecurities, its just not patient or confident enough to provide Rockwell and Fox with anything palpable to work with. Barely anyone in “Blue Iguana” is defined, but certainly these two characters could’ve been well served by some stronger definition. It’s a sad state of affairs when the only time Katherine seems to really matter is when the mousy character glams up and suddenly adds a new dimension to the all-boys gang.

Another jarring aspect to the movie can be found in its violence, which comes across as sudden and excessive just to make up for something that’s missing. Just as certain seems are about to die out, with overbearing attempts at sarcasm and wit, they conclude with everything and everyone covered in blood. Scenes like these left me thinking of better movies in this subgenre.

Considering the material Hajaig’s working from here, if there’s any filmmaker he should be emanating from it should be Martin McDonagh (someone Rockwell has had a great track record with) not Guy Ritchie. Eddie and Paul deserve the same kind of rich character study that Brendan Gleeson and Colin Ferrell received in McDonagh’s decade-old “In Bruges”, instead we have such broad characterizations given to two actors who could’ve dialed it down a bit and concentrated on dimensions and nuance. But alas, a broad tone of crime drama and comedy action is all Hajaig is going for here, sprinkled with a failed effort at romance that feels like it’s from another movie altogether.

 

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RATING: **

 

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