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The Killer and Dicks Go Big



THE KILLER. Given what we know — or think we know — about David Fincher, it is almost too tempting to see his latest as a smirking work of self-reflective satire. This contravenes the most basic tenet of what I was taught to call New Criticism, which is, clears throat, reads aloud: never conflate the art with the artist. And aside from Mank (2020), which was scripted by his late father, he has made a career of exploring depravity, decay and deviance from a vocally declared distance, without the risk of us rubes in the audience mining the work for autobiographical detail (at least not fruitfully). I take it back: It is, in fact, too tempting not to look at The Killer as a work of the artist's self-reflection, even if the whole thing is a put on.

Fincher has made no secret of self-identifying as a director for hire, albeit one with maybe the most exacting standards in the industry. He eschews the auteur mode of the contemporaries among whose rarified company his work places him; he is a technician, if an extraordinarily disciplined and self-actualized one. Which is, essentially, how our Killer (Michael Fassbender), a literal gun for hire, is introduced to us. While lying in wait in a forgotten Parisian office space, sitting with his own predatory silence, he explains his ethos in a bloodless, almost bored monotone. He is a pragmatist, a banisher of empathy, an organism holding itself to finely mechanistic standards of precision and accuracy. Nothing is left to chance because chance does not exist.

Which makes it all the more difficult to reckon with the fact that he has just blown the shot he has spent days (weeks?) planning and anticipating, instead splattering a sex worker all over his intended target. And therein seems to lie the most Fincherian of jokes. After its languid opening sequence, one mistimed trigger pull tilts The Killer on its axis, shifting it from Zen-like meditative procedural on the business of murder to a bloody, sneakily comic, multi-continental study in damage control.

That this screenplay was adapted by Andrew Kevin Walker (from the series of graphic novels by Alexis Nolent and Luc Jacamon) only helps to reinforce that everybody's in on the joke. Walker gained notoriety for his collaboration with Fincher on Se7en (1995) which remains one of the most reviled/beloved, quotable thrillers of the decade (all time?). Like Fincher, he's made a career of poking around in the darkness and bringing up wet sacks of unseemly stuff. Here, he gets to send his protagonist, a would-be cypher with more feelings than he should probably admit, out into the world of airports and restaurants, as well as to the usual scenes of multiple homicides.

I would not steal the humor from The Killer by cataloging or dissecting its jokes. Rather, I would say it is an unrivalled genre exercise that balances its sickness with satire and demonstrates a mastery of craft that, like the Killer's, is often as effective in disarray as when things go to plan. R. 118M. NETFLIX.

DICKS: THE MUSICAL. A couple of swinging single guys, each a champion salesman in his own vacuum cleaner-parts distribution boiler room, are thrown together by an unexpected corporate merger. At which point, after a brief ego-clash, they realize they are identical twins separated shortly after birth. As anyone would, they decide to switch places, each entering the home of the parent with whom the other grew up in order to rejoin their would-be family. Splashy song and dance numbers abound! God makes a number of appearances! Everybody learns something!

One could make a convincing case that this is an unproduced Preston Sturges treatment, some madcap late-'30s concept that just couldn't get off the ground. But it's the product of the minds of Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp, who based the screenplay on their own improvised stage-play. They star as the two leads, with Megan Mulally and Nathan Lane as their parents. And it is the wildest, most unlikely, filthiest, funniest musical I've ever seen. Granted, I'm not usually a fan of the genre, but most examples don't boast Sewer Boys and a sentient flying vagina. Or Megan Thee Stallion, for that matter.

The wanton, wonderful refusal of Dicks to bow to any convention beyond traditional musical comedy structure makes it one of those charmed genre exercises that, in embracing limitation, truly transcends it. Director Larry Charles (Borat, 2006), clearly having as much fun as anybody in front of the camera, lends the whole affair an air of deceptive ease, turning stagebound-ness into an attribute and creating some of the most perversely memorable scenes and sequences in decades. To paraphrase my wife, to whom I offered no preamble or explanation, "WHAT ARE WE WATCHING?" R. 86M. STREAMING.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.


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Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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