Sunday, April 22, 2012

Michael Douglas as 'The Dude' in The Treasure of the Sierra Costco

I just don't know why I choose movies like this.  I'll try not to spoil too much of the plot, but by the time the end credits rolled around, I saw Alexander Payne's name there.  Seriously?  Alexander Payne?  Lousy Greeks.  Truly Alex is the real king of California... and maybe Hawaii now, too, to a lesser extent.  He's entered Spielberg territory, being able to produce stories he himself wouldn't touch with a ten-foot directors' pole.  Unlike Spielberg, however, he doesn't demand the same high level of quality, much like Adam Sandler's producing adventures.
For some reason I hate to say it, so I'll just get it off my chest off the top.  Somehow, Michael Douglas in this role didn't work for me.  I have no idea who would have been perfect for this role... Beau Bridges?  No.  Norm MacDonald?... sorry, I don't know where that came from.  We had Dirty Work TiVo'd but now it's gone from the list!  Probably for the best.  Maybe Sean Connery would have been right for this role.  Then again, I thought he was right for The Ghost and The Darkness, but why nitpick.  At one point, my viewing companion openly complained that the Michael Douglas character's not sympathetic.  I couldn't help but think to myself, yeah, but it's Michael Douglas!
Frankly, I didn't think the Evan Rachel Wood character was too sympathetic, either.  Thank God for the plot to carry us through to the bitter, bitter end.  It almost made me lose track of the time.  At about the one hour mark, though, I couldn't help but think to myself, Geebus!  We've got a long, long way to go!  Heard all I wanna hear today...
I probably need a spoiler alert here, so quit reading and go see the film if you dare.  It's a modern day take on the heist / buried treasure genre, to be sure, with some dashes of the modern day lament of progress, a very slight nod to overcrowding.  Michael Douglas and daughter Evan Rachel Wood live in a house that would normally be considered the middle of nowhere in the California desert.  Off in the distance, however, are many, many houses and condos.  There are new condos and/or townhouses being built right behind them, for God's sake!  The Dude... ahem, the Douglas character is given as rich a backstory as possible, upstaging the daughter at every turn.  To explain the black dude at their house, Douglas used to be a jazz musician, playing a mean bass.  The bass serves as a metaphor, probably for dignity, but in this age of practicality and lack of upward social mobility, it's a metaphor for just trying to hang on to your last scrap of individuality.  My viewing companion thought that the filmmakers were trying to shoot for the moon of the Coen brothers.  Somehow, the filmmakers failed.  Sure, the film's got that indie feel to it, but the Coens are a lot more careful about their plotting, and they at least try to disguise that indie feeling in their films.  Take The Ladykillers, for example, another heist / treasure pic.  Say what you will; at least they didn't stretch credulity too much.  Also, what does it say about the indie genre when Costco and McDonald's play large parts in your 'indie' film?  Well, the 2000s were a big decade for Costco: Employee of the Month, Idiocracy... that turd on ABC about 9/11.  The terrorists got good bargains at Costco, apparently!  Also, you can't just waltz in to Costco without showing a membership card.  Believe me, I've tried.  Only one guest per member, too.  Little bit of a plot device.  Also, you can't just waltz on in and get a job there like the girl does.  Believe me, I've tried.  You probably don't get to choose the branch you want to work at, either.  It's a seniority thing.  Companies deliberately make people commute these days.  Low seniority, longer commute.  That's the rule.
Where was I?  I dunno, but I guess I better wrap this up.  At least The Onion knows how to write an efficient movie review: three paragraphs every time.  Efficiency!  When they skewer something, you'll know why, and you'll remember the grade.  So while the Michael Douglas character wasn't sympathetic, at least he tried to reform his ways.  He was somehow able to sell his daughter's car, but he was somehow just as able to get it back, because he saw how much it meant to her.  And while the corporate world may have backed this pic up, it's still an indie treasure pic because of the ending.  Ever the showman, Douglas apparently hides the treasure he's found inside that dishwasher the daughter always wanted, and apparently he hid the treasure right under the cops' noses and everything!  Hah!  Don't need to go back and rewatch the whole movie.  The father's choice of treasure hiding place has extra significance, as the major postmarks in the daughter's memories are the constant piles of dirty dishes in the sink that she had to take care of.  Spoiler alert: Mom was a hand model, and Dad was always exhausted from a night of playing jazz, so the daughter had to grow up fast in this cruel world that grinds on without you, and the price she paid was getting stuck with having to do the dishes.  When she finally opens up that dishwasher and is lit up with a golden glow, much like from the Pulp Fiction suitcase, we can only assume from her reaction that it's some sort of treasure in there.  Not for us to see, of course, so that our imaginations are stimulated.  But somehow it's symptomatic of the age.  Kids these days wouldn't know what to do with treasure if they got it... myself included.  Redemption in his daughter's eyes doesn't exactly come for Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt, but Douglas gets it here with the mysterious strangers showing up on the beach, if only from beyond the grave.  Another mystery to be resolved in the sequel or webisode, I guess...

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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