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Photo by Kerry Brown - Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

The actors in The Counselor are speaking English, but I still couldn’t understand a lot of what they said. That’s because the screenplay, by esteemed novelist Cormac McCarthy, is so dense it’s incomprehensible at times. The fact that his dialogue is delivered by some of the best-looking performers on earth offers a degree of compensation, but after a while even that wears thin, leaving us with a thriller that’s so bad it’s laughable.

The Counselor doesn’t waste time with exposition: we meet the main characters without knowing much about them and are hurled into a plot that seems to have begun before we arrived. The opening scene, I’ll admit, is a grabber—a very sexy encounter between Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz under a bed sheet. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. Fassbender plays the title character, a presumably successful lawyer who is never referred to by name. (How’s that for creating a mystique?) He’s about to consummate a deal with a slick, shady wheeler-dealer (Javier Bardem) in El Paso, Texas that apparently involves drugs and a lot of money. Bardem’s female companion is a steely blonde (Cameron Diaz) who enjoys watching her pet cheetahs stalk their prey in the desert. Violence will be a recurring theme in this film, in case you missed the metaphor.

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Photo by Kerry Brown - 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

The Counselor knows he’s venturing into dangerous territory and is warned to steer clear by independent operator Brad Pitt, but he proceeds just the same, because that’s the kind of movie this is: a portentous tale of foolishness and fatalism, sprinkled with purple prose.

There are tidbits of trashy, eyebrow-raising fun here and there, including a scene in which Diaz engages in sex with Bardem’s Ferrari convertible (yes, that’s what I said). But for all their supposed success and sophistication, the characters aren’t very bright, and the movie gets dumber, and more obvious, as it goes along.

The Counselor has an impeccable pedigree with McCarthy’s name on the script, Ridley Scott directing, and an internationally renowned cast, including some fine actors in minuscule roles (Bruno Ganz makes the most of his single scene, but I still can’t figure out what Edgár Ramirez is doing in the picture.) I’d say the movie was a lark if it weren’t so bloody and ponderous.