Stranger Than Fiction (1999) Movie Review

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I am beginning to detect a very strange associate with the surreal and the sub par. This is not to say that I have repented and become a born-again fanatic of American cheese-factory films and will worship John Hughes until my knees bleed. Instead, it is only to say that the last several films that I have watched that have had the intent of being surreal have ended up being sub par. For example, take The Sixth Sense, Naked Lunch, The Blair Witch Project and numerous other oddities that escape me at the moment, each film supposedly working off of the weird but instead going into the realm of the noddy viewer (or, in the case of The Blair Witch Project, the physical embodiment of a Pepto Bismol commercial).

The latest in this string of disappointments comes in the form of Stranger Than Fiction, a film which has countless plot twists that are not only predictable but come with predictable regularity. All one must keep in mind to crack this film open like the WWII Enigma cipher is that Stranger Than Fiction works off of the idea that Stranger Than Fiction does not bare any resemblance to actual life (aside from being a perfect demonstration of Murphy's Law) but instead goes more along the lines of every single B-movie mystery you have ever watched. With that implanted in your head, you will not have to sit through the boring second half of the movie which the narrator spends explaining what goes on.

Basically, Stranger Than Fiction follows Donovan, a writer, as he tells the story of four Salt Lake City twentysomethings -- who are both good Mormons and damn near alcoholics -- who happen to be caught in the situation where they have to cover up one murder. This of course leads to cover up more than one murder, as recent films such as Very Bad Things and Stag have taught us.

The first half of the film is marked with a morbid and wonderfully scripted deadpan humor which is able to sustain a viewers interest until it reaches the second half, where the humor stops about as quick as a New York cab with hyperactive brakes. By this time, the film has conned you into a slight interest in the characters and given you an expectation of more sardonic wit by and by. By the time you have reached the end of the film, it is too late and the remaining forty-five minutes have been wasted.

The director does a fairly good job of using some interesting photographic effects to grab your interest in the opening credits and then does what any director with a good cast will do: let's them work. The writers do a great job with dialogue but still cannot do much with plot originality.

The cast is mostly comprised of independent or art film people who turn a highly decent trick as far as this movie is concerned, which almost makes up for in performances what it lacks in originality. On the bill is Dina Meyer, who I insulted incredibly for her job in Bats but who shows none of the same tendencies here. Also present is Eyes Wide Shut's Todd Field, Lost Highway's Natasha Wagner, and The Last Days of Disco's Mackenzie Astin. All of them do their jobs to levels which are severely out of sync with such a poorly structured film.

Stranger Than Fiction is a definite sub par. However, unlike Naked Lunch, another surreal film, it is not so far gone down the sub par as to be unredeemable. If the writers had put as much effort into the first half as the second half, it would have been a great movie. But, as the seemed to have gone on strike halfway through, we are left with something a little below the halfway mark.

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Stranger Than Fiction (1999) Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 1999

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