One of those frustrating madness dramas along the lines of Stay or Slipstream, Carl Colpaert’s Black Limousine offers so many double-backs, possible hallucinations, and imaginary characters, it’ll be hard not to give the screen the finger in weary frustration. What do I mean by “madness dramas?” You’ve seen them. The films with possibly insane protagonists whose life may or may not be a mental construct. Think of The Machinist. Or maybe Fight Club. There is, I must indicate, a fine line to be walked when making these sorts of films. On the one side, you could make a movie about the very fabric of reality, wherein all dreams seep into the waking world, and the thin membrane between cogency and insanity is truly seen as the paper-thin construct of arbitrary social rules we have made for ourselves to keep our ineffable fears of the infinite at bay. Push those notions just a smidge too far, however, and you’re just jerking the audience around, and playing the always-dangerous “it was only a dream” card.
Black Limousine is about a limo driver named Jack, played with a twitchy weirdness by David Arquette, proving that he can handle dramatic material, even if he is going to “bonkers” his way through it. Jack was once a famous Hollywood composer, but has fallen into alcoholic depression following the accidental death of one of his daughters a few years before. He now lives in a small apartment, and can only get a job driving a limousine. He befriends a hotshot British actor (Nicholas Bishop) in the process, and becomes enamored of a pretty actress named Erica (pretty actress Bijou Phillips, uncharacteristically clothed). There is the subtle interplay of Jack trying to get back on his feet, and the subtle social daring with which he must do so. There are a few scenes where we actually feel Jack’s painful and cautious awkwardness. The story creeps along very slowly, but it at least has a few honest moments.
But then the film will yank a big bugnuts bunny out of its hat, leaving you scratching your head. Like the scene that take place in an on-set spaceship, wherein Jack and Erica trade stoner poetry as a form of courtship. The green screen outside of the spaceship, by the way, can be turned on and off by the in-film characters. That’s not how green screens work. As the film progresses, Jack gets increasingly twitchy, and Arquette repeatedly cranes his neck like a drunken osprey, making him seem like, well, the madman in the room; it’s a wonder some of the other characters don’t commit him. When Jack first sees Erica, she appears in a music video that leaks from Jack’s laptop computer out into the world around him. The entire music video plays, which was less a need to show Erica’s musical background, and more a cheap way to pad the film with a music video.
Then there’s a scene that is almost a direct ripoff of the Club Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive, wherein Jack wanders into an elementary school, where he sees his dead daughter lip-synching a grown woman’s voice, and performing in a school pageant with other children. Sadly, the film doesn’t reach the lovely nightmarish heights of Lynch, and falls into a dwelling trench of soupy stupidity and poorly-thought-out craziness. Oh and get this: that limousine that Jack drives? It turns out that the previous driver of that particular car murdered his wife in the backseat. Yes, dear readers, as an afterthought, the limousine is haunted.
Here’s an interesting further wrinkle: Nicholas Bishop plays a character named Tom Bower. And an actor named Tom Bower plays a character named Mr. Esteridge. Eerie.
Black Limousine invokes, more than anything, Slipstream, the entirely misguided vanity project by Anthony Hopkins, which, with its bare surreality and unknowable comments on the showbiz world, played like an annoying and less cogent version of Inland Empire. That Black Limousine invokes Slipstream (easily one of the worst films I have ever seen) is certainly a point against it. Colpaert made a competent, somewhat tense, totally weird, and ultimately dull and awful tale of ordinary madness. Everyone involved has chops. It’s too bad the experiment didn’t work.