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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Killing Zoe': An In-Your-Face Story About a Bank Heist

August 26, 1994|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The bank heist genre has made it into a new generation with its nose bloodied. "Killing Zoe" is a raucous, arty little neo-film-noir that comes equipped with a bucket of blood to splatter the halls of convention. It's not terribly good but you keep expecting it to take off in unexpected directions. Writer-director Roger Roberts Avary does have a genuine gift for hysteria--not exactly the most welcome gift these days--but his film finally collapses into a hyper-driven snit fit.

We're introduced in the beginning to Zed (Eric Stoltz), a stringy-haired American safecracker recently arrived in Paris to hook up with a childhood friend, Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade), who is planning a bank robbery with his heroin-hooked gang on Bastille Day. Zed starts things out with a languorous tryst with a peppy prostie, Zoe (Julie Delpy), who, post-passion, informs Zed they both have "Z" names. (This film should carry a bumper sticker, Warning: We Brake for Symbolism.)

Even though Avary is American, as well as a few of his actors and his co-producers (one of whom is Quentin "van Gogh" Tarantino), and even though an L.A. bank doubled for most of the interiors, the film at its worst still has the luridly vapid tone of a real French neo-noir like "Subway." (A lot of it is subtitled into English.) Avary converts his in-your-face attitude into an aesthetic. Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers," which has a story credited to Tarantino, has the same swagger, but it's much bossier about buzz-sawing you with its bad ideas. At least "Killing Zoe" swaggers to a simpler beat.

It's jazzy and hot-footed in its early sequences, when Zed goes on a robbery-eve joy ride that turns into a druggies' delirium. Avary keeps things loose and wiggy in these opening sequences, and so it's a letdown when the bank heist kicks in and we're left with a lot of hollering and gunplay and cornball Theater of the Absurd theatrics. Anglade, in particular, seems hellbent for glory. He's trying to turn his character into Antonin Artaud with an Uzi.

The film sides with Zed throughout, and when he begins to realize that his old friend is a raving psychopath, the action takes on some resonance. But, for someone as wised-up and world-weary as Zed appears to be, this realization comes painfully late. (If it came earlier there wouldn't be a movie.) And since the bank robbers--who also include Gary Kemp, who was chilling as Ronnie Kray in "The Krays"--are such out-of-control incompetents, there's not much suspense about how it will all turn out. The heist rapidly becomes existential--i.e. boring.

Maybe that's why Avary juices the screen with ultra-violence. He couldn't figure out a clever way to get his guys out of there.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence and language, drug use and a sex scene. Times guidelines: It includes lots of nasty, close-up violence and explicit sex.

'Killing Zoe'

Eric Stoltz: Zed

Jean-Hugues Anglade: Eric

Julie Delpy: Zoe

Gary Kemp: Oliver

A New Line presentation. Director-writer Roger Roberts Avary. Producer Samuel Hadida. Executive producers Rebecca Boss, Quentin Tarantino, Lawrence Bender. Cinematographer Tom Richmond. Editor Kathryn Himoff. Costumes Mary Claire Hannan. Set designer Michael Armani. Set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

* In limited release in Southern California.

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