The Minus Man

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Hampton Fancher

REVIEWED: 09-27-99

D: Hampton Fancher; with Owen Wilson, Janeane Garafalo, Brian Cox, Mercedes Ruehl, Dwight Yoakam, Dennis Haysbert, Sheryl Crow. (R, 111 min.)

You can say this for The Minus Man: It comes with a darn good pedigree. Hampton Fancher is making his directing debut after scripting such films as Blade Runner and The Mighty Quinn. The cast of The Minus Man practically describes cutting-edge indie cinema, and it's Owen Wilson's first leading role since his warm, quirky debut in Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket. What's not to love? Despite the heavy themes Fancher tackles in The Minus Man, the film is curiously light in tone. Striving for the deep well of existentialism, it instead draws up a bucket of nada. For a film that's being marketed as "one you'll be talking about for some time," I had trouble recalling what on earth was going on even as I walked out of the theatre. Adapted from Lew McCreary's novel, The Minus Man follows the rambling path of Vann Siegert (Wilson), an amiable blond traveler with wistful eyes and a bashful grin that belies his penchant for serial killing. Lazily tooling across the left side of the country in a battered pickup truck, Vann occasionally pulls in at roadside restaurants and bars, grabs a quick bite, and makes friends with the locals. Then he kills them. He's no Hannibal Lecter (coincidentally, a role originally developed by co-star Cox in Michael Mann's Manhunter), though. If anything, the languid rhythms of his speech and actions recall those of a stoned, new agey SoCal surfer dude, with his voiceover (dictated into a microcassette recorder ­ is that wise, do you think?) commenting on where his crazy head's at. Pulling into a nameless California town one day, Vann inserts himself into the lives of Doug and Jane (Cox and Ruehl), a married couple who've recently, mysteriously lost their daughter and whose marriage is fraying around the ends. Jane, all hard edges and bitter acrimony, keeps her distance at first, but Doug, plump, middle-aged, and desperately lonely, bonds almost immediately with this handsome stranger. The next thing you know they're taking in JV football games together. Securing the transient Vann a job at the local post office, Doug and Jane adapt to this new element in their lives, while for his part, Vann takes up with co-worker Ferrin (Garofalo, minus the sarcasm), a relationship that at first puts you in mind of Michael Rooker and Tracy Arnold's situation in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Don't be fooled. Fancher is far more interested in such antecedents as Hitchcock's Psycho and Shadow of a Doubt and the small-town drift of non-locales such as Lumberton in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. The Minus Man never even comes close to those high angst marks; it's the most lackadaisical thriller I've ever seen, overly infatuated with not only the inexplicability of random evil, but also its mundanity. With his good-guy looks and too-white smile, Vann is the deadly Other reduced to lowest-common-denominator status. Despite protestations to the contrary, he's dull and pointless. So is Fancher's film.

1.5 Stars

--Marc Savlov

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