Domino is a cinematic concussion so damaging that even those with Mule Variations in their CD players since 1999 might not recognize Tom Waits on the soundtrack.
Not to fear. Waits appears seconds later as a psychic, Jesus freak spirit-guide in a convertible. Yes, that character delivers some of the most straightforward dialogue in this movie, and that’s bad.
So, too, is bland movie normalcy, and only someone on a three-square-meal diet of illegal drugs for 40 years could accuse Tony Scott latest film of that. But Domino is visually and mentally exhausting — borderline punishing — for no discernibly good reason. It’s hundreds of ideas scribbled down with no connection and it has the emotional resonance of a junior-high play.
At its most basic, the movie is about Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley), daughter of the late actor Laurence Harvey and a former runway model that sought a career in bounty hunting.
But she gets caught up in a plot involving bail bondsman, mobsters and their sons, casino bosses and DMV workers (referred to as the “gatekeepers of humanity”) that is so convoluted that even a frequently employed flow chart never truly clears it up.
It’s one small part of how Domino feels every bit of its two-plus hour length. Scott dances along the lines of offensiveness in surprising ways (a subtitle font in the film’s climax), rehashes previous material True Romance’s climactic hailstorm of bullets in a triple-cross shootout and never settles his film down, waving between too many tones.
With its opening credits conclusion that it’s “based on a true story … sort of,” Domino would seem to be a deconstruction of the Hollywood biopic’s rigid rules. But in shortchanging nearly all avenues of its lead character’s personality, it seems guilty of the same old sugarcoating.
To that end, Knightley is asked to carry a movie made of material that’s fumbled and juggled. She exemplifies beanpole sexiness — lap dances probably aren’t typical information-gathering techniques and the curve of her back is one of the rare things Scott’s camera sits still for.
But in a movie so clearly toying with reality and truth, there’s no discussion of identity. This isn’t A History of Violence, it’s just violence — endless sawed-off shotgun confrontations. It’s hard to imagine the life of Domino Harvey, which ended in an overdose this year, was entirely like that.
For about 30 seconds at a time, the movie has other questions on its mind.
Do numerous, outlandish tangents comment on tabloid- and reality TV-ready Americans believing everything they see or read? Is it imparting some sort of do-gooder bounty-hunter code? Is it all just supposed to be a sensory overload of pulpy action? Has Tony Scott, a formerly reliable director of engrossing thrillers, gone mad from all the cigar smoke that’s filtered through his body?
If it seemed as though gremlins crawled into Scott’s camera for 2004’s Man on Fire, that gremlin now has swallowed the camera, along with a bad burrito. The visual result is the sloshing bile before it takes on the solid form of vomit.
The jitters here make The Blair Witch Project resemble a Steadicam highlight reel. Shadows are so deep and dark that it would have been no shocker for Lucy Liu’s character to lack eyeballs. When characters take mescaline, there’s nothing visually different from anything prior. At that point, it would have to be the picture flipping upside down and running subliminal chants.
Richard Kelly might just barely have ruled that out from his try-anything screenplay, an explosion of the pop-culture dementia he brought to his own, far better 2001 film, Donnie Darko.
There are funny moments: Mickey Rourke’s bounty-hunter guru quoting Pat Benatar with a straight face; passing references to 2 Live Crew and Sam Kinison; mainly Beverly Hills 90210’s Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering playing themselves with manic, self-deprecating energy.
But, in another script, describing Christopher Walken’s TV-producer character as having the “attention span of a ferret on crystal meth” would have been a precious nugget. Here, it’s self-commentary for a movie peddling confusion and incoherence while advertising it as ambition.