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Swelter (2014)

| August 5, 2014 | 0 Comments

I’ve been trying for years to decide the solitary element the separates Quentin Tarantino from his vast amount of imitators. Since 1992 when he shook the world with Reservoir Dogs and turned the basic narrative structure on its head with Pulp Fiction, every two-bit, wannabe filmmaker has been trying to duplicate the formula. What makes them different?  They have the notes right, but not the music.

Director Keith Parmer is no different. His new film Swelter is a puny modern day western propped up against the influence of Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Robert Rodriquez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico, yet it can’t approach either of those films, it comes off more as a showcase of violence in slow-motion than developing any kind of character. Worse, his narrative has no purpose. Characters and motivations are muddy and unfocused and often a character is introduced and dispatched without any kind of explanation.

If the style comes from Tarantino and Rodriquez, then Parmer borrows the story heavily from Ocean’s Eleven (not the remake). His story begins with a flashback structure that features three sweaty guys who spent 10 years in the clink for robbing a Vegas casino of several million dollars dressed in masks that look like – you guessed it – The Rat Pack. They’re caught. One of their partners is wounded and disappears, and the rest of the movie is focused on a violent bloodbath as the three ex-cons, and several other bands of thugs, now converge on a small Nevada backwater to find their missing partner-in-crime and uncover what happened to the missing money.

Now, as any reasonable moviegoers might assess, that’s not much to build a movie on. You need characters and histories and motivations for this to work. Plus, you need dialogue that consists of more than tough talk, sexual innuendo, pseudo-philosophical nonsense, and half-assed boilerplate patter that only functions to move the plot along. The fact that one of the robbers is played by Jean Claude Van Damme should be an indication that some neato fisticuffs are on the way. Nope! He just looks mean and shoots people.

Swelter is a good looking movie, but its all frosting and no cake. The camera whips around and the actors walk and shoot in slow motion. The opening heist is so filled with close-ups and jump cuts that we hardly get any sense of risk or danger. The rest of the movie is a long, slow haul to the inevitable showdown.

Parmer is so satisfied with his style that he forgets to involve us in what is going on. Many of the action scenes look cool but the simplest element of motivation is thrown to the wind. For example, early in the film a bunch of guys break out of a prison chapel by blowing a hole in the wall followed by a shoot-out with the cops. One of the cops was apparently in on the prison break and is suddenly dispatched. It’s a cold-blooded moment that is never explained. What follows is a series of scenes of carnage and blood employed by and with characters that we never get to know. They’re all pawns in a stylish exercise. You wonder where their motivation comes from, and you’re also baffled about why, after the murders of two dozen local cops, the FBI and the SWAT Team aren’t converging on this town.

If there is a positive in this movie, it comes from two performances that should occupy a more focused story. One is by English actor Lennie James as the robber who disappeared. He has some quiet moments that are effective, especially in his connection with a beaten-down local doctor played by Alfred Molina whose whole physical structure seems motivated by whatever he’s experienced in life. These two guys seem to have genuine charm and you can feel the pain of a long and difficult life. A little more exploration of their lives and the movie might have amounted to much more. We lean forward to hear what they have to say. Unfortunately it’s drowned out by gun fire and explosions that don’t mean a darned thing.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Action