Just when you thought filmmakers had milked every gag possible from setting a movie in the 1970s, along comes writer/director Charles Matthau to prove that theory correct in the moribund Elmore Leonard adaptation “Freaky Deaky.” Though the source material takes place in 1988, Matthau heard the call of polyester and fur and answered be relocating the film to the seventies, resulting in a film drowning in cornball aesthetics, extravagant living room furniture, funk music out of a bad porno and loud fashion under the guise of mise en scene.
Billy Burke, an actor so unconvincing he can’t even manage to be a highlight of the “Twilight” movies, stars as Chris Mankowski, a detective coping with a string of bad luck, one that’s left him suspended from the force and living at his father’s house with borrowed wheels. He’s approached by a beautiful young ingénue named Greta (Sabina Gadecki) who cries rape in regards to famed movie producer Woody Ricks, though it soon becomes clear (well, not really) that she seeks to bring him down.
As played by Crispin Glover, Woody is a drug-addled bottle of neuroses. Locked away in a mansion on the hills, he’s overmedicated beyond comprehension, shoveling pills into his mouth as he listlessly floats in his pool fully clothed. His day-to-day is in the hands of capable but clearly under-educated bodyguard Donnell, played by martial arts star Michael Jai White. White doesn’t get to utilize his more familiar talents, but he has a natural gift for comedy, and he and Glover make an inspired comic pairing, if not an intriguing physical contrast.
The producer has a daffy younger sibling Mark (Andy Dick) also trying to make it in the business. While Mark considers his creativity being stymied, it’s really his libido that he must feed. Soak it up, because this is the first time you’ll see Andy Dick and Crispin Glover play sex-driven brothers. Amusing that Glover’s Woody seems almost asexual, incapable of stringing together a full sentence, though you’re led to believe he’s a notorious hounddog.
Mark plays into the hand of sexy counter-culturalist Robin (Breanne Racano) who seeks to pit the brothers against each other. A demure seductress with an apartment strewn with hippie literature, Robin also holds a secret: she writes immensely successful romance fiction, the movie rights of which she intends to sell to the highest bidder. Her threat against the brothers comes courtesy of Skip (Christian Slater), a drug-addled pyrotechnics expert with a gift for dynamite, narcotics and little else, one who has no problem being lured into a deadly situation as long as there’s the promise of sex.
Thirty minutes into “Freak Deaky,” all these double crosses come into clearer vision, and the general audience member will develop a sense of the plot. It’s likely they’ll also wonder, who are these people, and why should I care? As a director, Matthau favors incidence over character, so half of this film is packed with scenes and moments that do nothing to advance the story or the characterizations, particularly a first act time shift that kicks back two weeks at an arbitrary moment to relay information we could have learned in a more linear fashion. Guess this sort of thing is a contractual obligation in Elmore Leonard adaptations, regardless of the relevance.
It’s a farce but when everything is treated like a joke, nothing is funny. Every character is introduced with a gag or two, cementing their inherent disposability. They seem like placeholders in a real movie where the viewer would say, ha ha, the real leads are about to show up, right? As the whipsmart detective, Burke underplays his burnt-out gumshoe as the smartest guy in the room, constantly ten steps ahead of everyone else. But when the film is wall-to-wall buffoon, characters pull a gun on him and the combination of unthreatening antagonists and Burke’s jackass smirk quickly emphasizes that he’ll never face a serious threat during this film‘s runtime.
No favors are presented by this schizophrenic cast. While Burke goes for wry understatement and deadpan double takes, the rest of the cast opts for broad laughs. The film feels drenched in flop sweat, as experienced actors like Slater and Glover flail about, matched with White’s peacock strut and the predictable shtick of non-actor Dick. It’s the picture's two freshest faces, Gadecki and Racano, wherein the most significant faults of this film lie. It’s not that these two actresses aren’t very good, but rather that they might as well be wearing "SEX KITTEN" on their t-shirts. Matthau seems about as tone-deaf about sexuality as he is about comedy, stranding these two in a series of impossible poses in place of giving them anything interesting to say or do, other than act as catalysts for this collection of rich men with guns. And when your film is called “Freaky Deaky,” it would help to be at least a little sexy. [D]