I thought we were done with this, the blatant Quentin Tarantino rip-off movie. Or maybe we’ve moved on to the blatant Paul Thomas Anderson rip-off movie, since Catch .44 name checks Boogie Nights directly. This right here, a straight-to-video release starring Bruce Willis, Forest Whitaker, The Watchmen’s Malin Akerman, is a crime caper with style but an oppressive lack of substance. Not that we want much from our Mexican standoff movies, but perhaps a protagonist wouldn’t have been too much to ask for. Or at least one person worth caring about. Or a plot that amounts to more than a five-minute student film. Or dialogue that actually reveals something about the characters, rather than the writer/director’s preoccupations.
Yeah, Catch .44 hurt me. I’m trying not to be cruel, since everyone clearly worked very hard on this production (certainly the casting director earned their paycheck, since they got Brad Dourif to appear for only two, clearly pointless scenes), but there’s a reason a film with this pedigree ended up going straight-to-video. It’s a collection of all the Quentin Tarantino mannerisms we make fun of – cloying appropriations of pop songs, meandering pop culture-laced dialogue and a crime story written by someone who clearly doesn’t know too many criminals – but none of the understanding of human nature that goes along with them. And certainly none of the empathy with the characters. Pulp Fiction doesn’t really have a single protagonist either, but every character felt human and believable regardless of their antisocial actions.
The plot of Catch .44 revolves around a group of female bagmen on a vague mission to make some kind of financial exchange. It quickly goes pear-shaped, most of them get shot, and the film catches up to the poorly established action with flashbacks revealing… nothing really. Forest Whitaker appears as a mysterious homicidal maniac and he contributes a lot of charisma to his part, the only one with a modicum of rooting interest, and Bruce Willis shows up as a drug dealer with a Billy Bob Thornton soul patch. There’s a weird bit where Willis plays a track off of his own ill-fated 1980’s pop album, meaning that Bruce Willis actually exists in this universe, and which makes one wonder why nobody ever comments on this character’s eerie physical resemblance to one of the biggest acting stars in the world.
Who’s the star here? The movie seems to think it’s Malin Akerman, but she’s too busy spouting nonsensical philosophical rhetoric and being a clichéd “badass” to qualify. What does she want? Why does she do what she does? Writer/director Aaron Harvey doesn’t seem interested in showing us. Towards the end of the film there’s a nicely acted standoff between Whitaker and Willis that implies that we were supposed to care about them all along, but the rest of the film doesn’t support that. There’s not enough of them. And the scene is too mannered with overt allegory to really register, no matter how hard they try to imbue it with meaning. All we have to amuse us until then is a parade of energetic camerawork with no particular rational behind it.
Catch .44 slumps onto Blu-Ray with a colorful, nicely detailed transfer and an audio commentary track from Harvey and his editor, Richard Byard. The odds of you listening to it are infinitesimal. If they have any justification for the events of the film it should have been evident in the film itself. It would be like telling a long, meandering joke with a confusing set up and no punch line, and then spending just as much time explaining why you should have laughed.
Catch .44 just plain ain’t worth your time. Comparing the film to its forebears would be like comparing a bottle rocket to Fast Five. I hope the people involved have something to say someday, or at least a real story to tell, because they clearly have the technical skills necessary to make a real film. Catch .44 isn’t it.